Blatchford book telling Caledonia's story

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

November 3, 2010

"We're all remiss for ignoring Caledonia's message."

Those were the words of WWII and Korean War veteran, long time reporter and Toronto Sun founding editor Peter Worthington last week after reading Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed All of Us, Christie Blatchford's new book documenting events here during the past five years.

Until now, despite the efforts of many local residents, activists, politicians and this community newspaper to get the word out, the town's plight has been largely untold outside the confines of Haldimand County. For the most part, major media outlets ignored issues facing the town that centered around lawlessness and two-tiered justice right here in the province of Ontario, in the country of Canada.

At a kick-off event last week at the Twisted Lemon in Cayuga, Doubleday Publishing Director Lynn Henry explained how Blatchford was supposed to write a follow-up to her first book entitled Fifteen Days - a story about military life in the 21st century following the author's three trips to Afghanistan in 2006. Henry referred to Blatchford's idea for a book about Caledonia as "shocking" after she was given the rundown about this community in crisis.

Thousands of copies of Helpless flew off the shelves as soon as the book was released last week.

The book was already generating controversy after being on sale for just one day, Henry noted. Once review had already been printed in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Blatchford also appeared on the Michael Coren Show and several other televised newscasts to promote her new title.

At the kin-off party, Blatchford thanked main contributors such as Dave Brown and Dana Chatwell, John and Don Henning, Gary and Christine McHale and many others who shared their stories. Blatchford also paid tribute to the late Justice David T. Marshall whom she never got the chance to meet, regretfully.

"I would like to live here, so that's how much I like you all," she said.

Just two days removed from the results of the municipal election, Blatchford emphasized that Haldimand Council would look a lot different than it does today if it were up to her. She called Toby Barrett "the single most outspoken and no-bullshit politician I have ever met in my entire life."

The book certainly sparked discussion inside the Ontario Legislature last week.

"Here we have a journalist who has penned a thorough account of the anarchy in Caledonia in just a matter of months, and yet we see a government - after four-and-a-half years - nowhere near a starting point for resolution," stated Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett.

Attorney General Chris Bentley spoke about land claims rather than Barrett's inferred questions about law and order.

"While you said you don't interfere with the police, she cites examples of political meddling by your office that has hamstrung police and put abstract ideology ahead of protecting victims," Barrett stated.

"Attorney General, these are serious allegations. Is this the final say?" Barrett queried.

"Is this how the record will stand, or will you now call a public inquiry?"

Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Tim Hudak also used Blatchford's account to hold the McGuinty government's feet to the fire.

The Premier "has refused to hold to account the lawbreakers and what they've done to Caledonia families, including intimidation, home invasions and violence - these things all detailed in Christie Blatchford's new book, expressing very clearly the failure of the McGuinty government to govern and to protect its citizens equally," Hudak charged before questioning "an extraordinary failure of leadership" that left Caledonia residents completely on their own amid the chaos of the four-and-a-half year dispute.

Acting Premier Dwight Duncan replied by stating that "The government of Ontario has worked hard with our First Nations communities across Ontario, and all communities, to build a better future for all Ontarians. It's an inclusive future that speaks to the best values of Ontarians. It's a future that speaks to resolving issues without violence, without the use of police. It's a future that speaks to job creation in our northern communities, where far too many aboriginal children go to bed hungry."

In her book, Blatchford's main point is that "the rule of law was utterly decimated."

"I avoided comment on events there, because I wasn't sure of the relationship between lawlessness and aboriginal rights," Worthington wrote in his column. "I was uneasy about confusing one with the other. That's my excuse...

"Since reading Helpless by Christie Blatchford, a new book detailing the controversy, I don't have that excuse anymore."

Blatchford admitted that it can often take Canadians a long time to anger, but she hopes that her book is recognized for calling out the elephant in the room.

Whether it effects change remains to be seen.

Some still seem to believe that two wrongs make a right.

"We need to go out in our communities to underline that in order to uphold the 'rule of law,' Treaties - the foundation of Canadian law - must be upheld and respected," The First Nations Solidarity Working Group (FNSWG) of Toronto stated in a press release.

The group is issuing a call for communities to organize and respond to Christie Blatchford as she makes her way across Canada promoting her new book.

Hundreds of people turned up at The Regional News last Saturday to have their copies of Helpless signed by Blatchford. Some of them had five or more copies for friends and family members. Fortunately the event was peaceful, without protest. In an ironic twist, the Ontario Provincial Police were on hand just in case.

According to critics from the FNSWG, "Blatchford conveniently and very actively erases the fact that between 1951 and 2006, Six Nations has filed 29 land claims recognized as legitimate by the Canadian government, and out of which, only one claim has been resolved. Equally important, Blatchford ignores the colonial context of the violence of residential schools (behind the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Six Nations children who did not survive the violence, were buried), the massive incarceration of Aboriginal peoples, deaths in police custody, the Indian Act, over 800 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and other outside-imposed governance structures under which Six Nations peoples have been living and surviving for centuries. Today, the current Six Nations land base represents only 5% of the 950,000 acres outlined in the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 as their sovereign territory."

Blatchford says her book is not about "aboriginal land claims", but "the failure of government to govern and to protect all its citizens equally."

Blatchford is thus reproducing the colonial logic of erasing the histories and present context of violence done to Indigenous nations and peoples," the solidarity group charges.