Posted on November 25, 2009

Welcome to Caledonia, Where Flying the Flag Is Asking for a Fight

Christie Blatchford, Globe and Mail (Toronto), November 25, 2009

Natives who routinely and sometimes violently broke the law but nonetheless played the victim; police who wouldn’t police, but dispensed private cellphone numbers and calming hugs instead; and a small town where flying the Mohawk Warrior flag was deemed perfectly fine, but doing the same thing with the Canadian flag was held to be provocative: Welcome to Caledonia, Ont., circa 2006.

The true story of the alchemy which began to occur in that small southwestern Ontario town that spring is unfolding here in the courtroom of Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas Bielby.

A Caledonia family–Dave Brown, Dana Chatwell and their teenage son Dax–are suing the Ontario government and the OPP for a total of $7-million for effectively abandoning them to the lawlessness surrounding a native occupation of a former development site called Douglas Creek Estates.

The family’s home is bordered on two sides by the site, part of a simmering Six Nations land claim.

It was first seized in February of that year by natives from the nearby reserve. It remains occupied by them to this day, effectively if informally ceded to them by the province which later that summer bought out the developer for $12-million purely, it appears, to allow the occupiers to stay unmolested.

It may have been just a slip of the tongue the other day when David Feliciant, the government’s lawyer, referred to the site as “the DCE Reserve,” but the land, in all but name, has become just that.

The world of Mr. Brown and Ms. Chatwell, and to a lesser degree that of other Caledonia residents whose homes were also close to the site, was Kafkaesque, a bewildering place where black was white, right was wrong, up was down.

By the fall of that year, audiotapes of some of Mr. Brown’s many calls to the OPP reveal a startlingly agreeable man–he invariably called the female police dispatchers “hon,” began all conversations with a cheery “Hi, how ya doing?” and thanked them before hanging up–but with a rising fear and sometimes outright panic in his voice.

Some nights, he phoned back repeatedly, begging for help, sometimes asking for officers to be sent to his home, other times too afraid to be seen with them. “I really don’t want to be walking out there,” he said once.

But the OPP, it was clear, would not enter the occupied land, would not make arrests as they would in the usual course, and had actually “negotiated” with the natives that the lone cruiser which was posted by the DCE entrance was not allowed to respond to calls from residents like Mr. Brown, and that only a “roving” squad car could do that.

The roving squad car, of course, roved only around the edges of DCE, never entering it, either in pursuit of suspects or to make arrests.

Once or twice, the tapes showed, when Mr. Brown would call back asking where the police were, the dispatcher would explain that the call had been routed through London, and that if he wanted better service he should always ask for the “Caledonia Resettlement Unit” of the OPP.

One night, when he asked that the OPP station a car near his house, he implored the dispatcher, “Just don’t ignore my calls okay? It’s unsafe here, if you ask me. They’re shining spotlights all over, all around the perimeter.” Police notes duly stated that “Occupiers are in multiple vehicles, shining lights everywhere.”

When an officer showed up, as requested, Mr. Brown phoned back and asked the dispatcher to have the officer call him: “I just want to say thank you,” he said.

And as it was then, so it remains, as an exchange between Mr. Feliciant and Mr. Brown yesterday illustrates.

The lawyer was playing a piece of the family’s homemade videotape, now an exhibit, from some time that summer. Mr. Brown and Ms. Chatwell were outside, discussing whether they should call the OPP; there were natives, in a couple of trucks, again shining spotlights into their home. It was to capture that act that Mr. Brown got out his camera in the first place, to prove it had happened.

Suddenly on the tape, a native woman could be heard shouting: “Stop harassing us! Put your camera away! You’re violating our rights!”

“Yeah okay,” Mr. Brown said, but he muttered, “Unbelievable.”

“Did you hear that?” Mr. Feliciant asked yesterday. “You can hear someone from the site yelling at you to stop.”

“Yes, I heard that,” Mr. Brown said.

“You continued to film?” Mr. Feliciant asked. Mr. Brown agreed that he had.

“Why wouldn’t you have put your camera down?” Mr. Feliciant asked. “Clearly, you’ve agitated them.”

“Why?” Mr. Brown asked, disbelieving even after all this time. “I’m looking at that spotlight that is staring at you on the screen,” he said. “My house is being lit up.”

Mr. Feliciant is using OPP call records, incident reports and notes, two years worth of the family’s MasterCard records and Ms. Chatwell’s diary in his cross-examination of Mr. Brown. Several times yesterday, in his scrutinizing of the family’s spending, the lawyer pointed out liquor purchases.

Mr. Feliciant appeared to be trying to demonstrate that contrary to Mr. Brown’s evidence, the OPP did respond to him. Indeed they did, but from the notes and tapes yesterday, that response was usually to try to “calm down” Mr. Brown or his wife.

As Christmas of 2006 approached, with Mohawk Warrior flags all over the DCE and on Mr. Brown’s street, Caledonia residents had had enough, and decided they would carry or hang a Canadian flag. Mr. Brown decided to fly one in his front yard.

“Weren’t you at all concerned about instigating a confrontation with protesters?” Mr. Feliciant asked.

“By hanging a Canadian flag?” Mr. Brown asked, furious.

“The Canadian flag was not allowed to be flown,” he said. “I’m a very, very proud Canadian. I’m proud of my country. This was my opportunity and my right to believe we still live in this country.

“The OPP was not concerned with the Mohawk flags all around my property and on all the telephone poles. They were agitating me. You didn’t concern yourself with that,” he told Mr. Feliciant. “You didn’t care that they were agitating me at that time, [did] you?

“And you’re telling me that I’m provoking someone by hanging a Canadian flag?”

Mr. Brown’s flag was stolen a few days later, and, he told the lawyer, he stood with his uncle, three police cruisers in his driveway, as the “OPP let them [the natives] stand there with my Canadian flag.”