Rally crashers strike again

by Bill Jackson - The Regional News

March 2, 2011

As Ernie Palmer made his way back up Argyle Street toward the Canadian Tire parking lot where his car was parked, two females in a contingent of ominous looking brutes on the former Douglas Creek Estates subdivision emerged from trucks parked near a fence line, hurled a four--letter word beginning with the letter 'f', attached the present participle, and followed it up with the work "immigrant."

 Normally such a derogatory comment might warrant a retort, possibly even some police intervention in a country called Canada. But those familiar with the ongoing native land occupation that's now in its sixth year have grown accustomed to such utterances and know by now that they dare not talk back for fear of reprisal.

After all, one man was arrested for carrying a Canadian flag in the exact same area that abuts the occupation which is no-go-zone for provincial police and many non-natives.

Palmer, who bravely toted the country's flag atop a long metal pole, calmly went on his way and later admitted that he's been called worse.

It was he who endured a six-month occupation on his own private property on the outskirts of town when a Six Nations man set up an illegal smoke shack there in the summer of 2009. Even though the story has been documented, Palmer claims that the two-tier law enforcement that made his life a living hell still prevails.

"I've been threatened with death and the OPP won't do anything," he told The Regional News.

"There's so much wrong with this country it's unbelievable."

Palmer was one of approximately 30-40 people from the Caledonia community who came out last Sunday in support of what was dubbed a "Truth and Reconciliation" rally by members of the Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE). The rally coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Douglas Creek Estates occupation on Monday, Feb. 28th.

CANACE organizers including Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas believe that the only way to move forward in the future is for the police, government and Six Nations to acknowledge their wrongs, apologize and make a commitment not to repeat the travesties that have allowed crime and lawlessness to run rampant in Caledonia and Brantford during the past five years.

The location of the rally that was slated to begin outside the Lions Hall at 1 p.m. was changed when a group of protesters with opposing viewpoints showed up with the intent to muffle the message and disrupt deliverance.

Shortly thereafter, CANACE organizers decided to gather on a private piece of property that abuts the DCE occupation at the south end of town. Police stopped vehicular traffic traveling on Argyle Street, from the Celtic-Braemar intersection to the Highway 6 bypass.

A large group gathered on the middle of Argyle Street South where a number of verbal confrontation ensued.

Out-of-town representatives from locals belonging to the Canadian Auto Workers' (CAW) and CUPE's (Canadian Union of Public Employees) First Nations Solidarity Working Group attempted to override CANACE with a sound system and megaphone. Many supporters hurled slurs at McHale and members of CANACE who were accused of racism and treated to native song.

"Our purpose is to promote real truth and reconciliation and a fair, just and negotiated settlement of the unresolved land right of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory," stated CAW locals in a statement distributed by Steve Watson, a national representative.

"We can't settle genuine disputes by way of force and injunctions. Union members know all too well what it means to face an employer who refuses to bargain and who resorts to injunctions to impose its will without negotiation...

"If the federal government had developed a comprehensive land claims settlement process and had negotiated in good faith with Six Nations from the start, this problem would have never taken the form it did."

A group chanted "Hey, ho, McHale must go" when Vandermaas and several helpers attempted to carry a monument north on Argyle Street and place it on the road allowance outside the main entrance to the DCE occupation.

The detractors, carrying signs, attempted to block the message of the monument and impede forward motion by crowding around it.

McHale later noted that those who came in support of Six Nations had the opportunity to show up for a rally to mark the five-year anniversary of the occupation the following day.

"If I was to show up tomorrow and tried to get in the faces of the native people and shouted in their faces, I'd be arrested," he said.

Police have prevented non-native protesters from interfering with native protests in the past, but they wouldn't agree to keep the two groups separated on Sunday.

"Every time their side wants to mingle they are allowed, but others have been arrested for trying to mingle with their side," McHale stated.

During a recent meeting with the OPP, McHale was informed that the police force received instructions to arrest any member of his group who walks onto DCE.

"This is at the request of the property owner which is Dalton McGuinty," reads a statement issued by CANACE.

"The Ontario Government wrote a letter to Supt. Cain yesterday to instruct him to enforce the law. However, the letter also instructed the OPP that the Native Occupiers and their associates were permitted to use DCE."

McHale plans to file a lawsuit based on a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for "limiting access to provincial property due to one's political views and one's race."

The CANACE monument made it as far as the Argyle Street road allowance on the opposite side of the DCE site, however a group consisting mainly of native individuals prevented it from coming any closer.

"All we want is an apology," said Vandermaas, while waiting for the verdict of a discussion between natives and the OPP to "calm resistance."

During a brief spat there was some pushing and shoving, however no one was arrested.

"What are you accomplishing?" OPP Sgt. Dan Michaud asked Vandermaas.

The groups dispersed after a 20-minute standoff, and Vandermaas vowed to return every month until the monument could be placed in the intended spot.

Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt believes that "Asking for sorrys is a waste of time."

While cleaning up signs and litter scattered outside the Haldimand County Caledonia Centre during an annual girls' hockey tournament, Hewitt said the message left behind by many coming from outside the town on buses didn't serve the agenda of the Caledonia community. Some individuals who were in from Guelph to protest CANACE were handing flyers to players and parents.

"It's not always the message that's the problem, but where it's taken," he said.

Just then, a man pulled up outside the arena to ask what was going on in town. Hewitt told him that it was just an anniversary march in light of events during the past five years.

He later told The Regional News that headway on some issues are being made in discussions with Six Nations' leaders. He said that such matters should stay in boardrooms instead of continuing to beat up the image of the communities involved.