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Apr 21, 2006

 
 
 
Updated Thu. Apr. 20 2006 7:08 AM ET


CTV map detailing the location of Caledonia, Ontario.
CTV map detailing the location of Caledonia, Ontario.

Police move in to end Ontario native occupation

CTV.ca News Staff

Ontario Provincial Police staged a pre-dawn raid Thursday in a bid to evict native protesters occupying a construction site in southwestern Ontario.

Police arrived "incredibly quickly with overwhelming force," just before 5 a.m., one protester was quoted as telling reporters at the scene.

"Police had guns drawn, they had tear gas cannons, they had Tasers out -- I believe people were Tasered," he said. "The police just completely swarmed the territory."

Since Feb. 28, dozens of Six Nations protesters have been occupying the Douglas Creek Estates housing project southwest of Hamilton, Ont., which they say sits on native land.

The protestors argue that the site was part of a large land grant back in 1784, but the provincial and federal governments insist the land was surrendered in 1841 to help build a major highway.

The protest has irked local residents, at least 500 of whom turned out earlier this month for a rally to demand that authorities end the occupation.

A spokeswoman for federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice told the Canadian Press that the occupation was a provincial matter.

The Ontario government said earlier this month that it wanted a negotiated end to the standoff.

A judge granted an injunction in March to remove the occupiers, but police did not enforce it until Thursday -- day 52 of the occupation. 

The raid comes two days after tensions rose on Tuesday when talks to end the dispute apparently broke down.

Ontario Provincial Police have so far not commented on Thursday's raid.

The clash with police brings to mind the aboriginal occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, which resulted in the death of protester Dudley George from a police sniper's bullet.

The park was seized by First Nations protesters on Sept. 4, 1995, under the belief it was native territory that had never been properly surrendered.

Provincial police marched on the park two days later, and George was slain in the ensuing showdown.

George's death prompted accusations of police and government racism and an inquiry that is still ongoing.

 

 
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Protesters stand on a blockade during a confrontation with OPP officers on Thursday.
Protesters stand on a blockade during a confrontation with OPP officers on Thursday.

Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade on Highway 6 in Caledonia, Ontario on Thurssday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)
Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade on Highway 6 in Caledonia, Ontario on Thurssday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)

Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade by the Douglas Creed Estates housing project in Caledonia, Ontario on Thursday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)
Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade by the Douglas Creed Estates housing project in Caledonia, Ontario on Thursday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)

OPP Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon speaks during a press conference in Cayuga, Ontario on Thursday.
OPP Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon speaks during a press conference in Cayuga, Ontario on Thursday.

Native protesters return after clash with police

Updated Thu. Apr. 20 2006 11:34 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

Native protesters are staking their claim to a disputed tract of land in southwestern Ontario, after a pre-dawn police raid to break up a seven-week-old occupation backfired on Thursday.

Police helicopters hovered overhead as protesters blocked roads, climbed atop buildings and set tires alight -- sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the air.

Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon described the clashes as "very difficult for all involved" and confirmed that 16 protesters had been arrested.

Urging calm, Pilon insisted his officers "showed tremendous restraint," adding that two officers sustained injuries during the confrontation.

"Our focus is to try and find a peaceful resolution...violence is not the answer," he told a news briefing in Cayuga, Ont., Thursday.

Earlier, protester Hazel Hill told CTV that she had struggled with up to five police officers.

"People were pepper sprayed...another man was shot in the back with a Taser and we were told more police officers would be coming back," Hill said.

Despite the confrontation, CTV's Kathy Tomlinson said both sides could resume talks as early as Friday.

"We were told that they were actually getting quite close to a settlement, despite how long this has been going on," she said.

"They were talking as late as (Wednesday). They're saying they're gong to talk again tomorrow, and there's a lot of hope on both sides that a settlement is imminent."

As night approached, a busload of supporters from other reserves in the province arrived. More were expected through the night at a tent city resembling a makeshift refugee camp.

Truckloads of gravel and barricades blocked the main road into the disputed land, a 40-hectare tract where some 250 homes are slated for construction.

Occupation

Since Feb. 28, dozens of Six Nations protesters have occupied the Douglas Creek Estates housing project in Caledonia, a quiet suburban community near Hamilton, Ont., which they say sits on native land.

The protestors argue that the site was part of a large land grant back in 1784, but the provincial and federal governments insist the land was surrendered in 1841 to help build a major highway.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the protesters to leave last month, but they ignored the order.

Police then staged a pre-dawn raid Thursday morning, two days after talks to end the dispute broke down.

Protester Mike Desroches told reporters at the scene that police arrived "incredibly quickly with overwhelming force," just before 5 a.m.

Desroches said police were armed with guns, tear gas and Tasers and "completely swarmed the territory," but there was initially no sign of violence.

Another protester, Janie Jamieson, said the confrontation was far from over and occupiers were bracing for another visit by police.

"We're prepared . . . for however long it takes," said Jamieson.

David General, the chief elected council of Six Nations, told CTV Newsnet there was only a "couple dozen people" on the site of the occupation.

He said he believed the issue could be worked out, but there must be political will.

"We can talk all we want, but there is no political resolve to this right now," he said.

Talks to resolve the dispute are set to resume Friday between the federal and provincial government and protesters.

Political questions

Meanwhile, Ontario's Provincial Liberals were criticized by opposition MPPs who demanded to know if the provincial government had played a role in the confrontation.

"Your ministers have known about this situation for a year," Conservative Opposition Leader John Tory said.

He questioned Premier Dalton McGuinty about why the situation was allowed to reach a level where tire fires have been lit by protesters and police used pepper spray and Taser guns.

Provincial New Democrats went further, suggesting McGuinty knew the OPP was going to move on the protesters.

"I have a hard time believing they took action on their own," Gilles Bisson, the NDP native affairs critic, told reporters.

"I have to think that the government had to know what was going on."

Bisson also said McGuinty must tell the public whether he had advance warning of the raid when he said during Wednesday's Question Period that the government was taking the necessary steps for a peaceful resolution.

McGuinty's office had made no comment on the situation Thursday.

Bisson said the raid suggested the provincial government had not learned the lessons of Ipperwash, which took place under former Conservative premier Mike Harris.

The aboriginal occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 resulted in the death of protester Dudley George from a police sniper's bullet.

George's death prompted accusations of police and government racism and an inquiry that is still ongoing.

With files from CTV's Kathy Tomlinson and The Canadian Press

 

 
 
Updated Fri. Apr. 21 2006 10:12 AM ET

Natives block rail line in support of standoff

CTV.ca News Staff

A simmering land-claim standoff in southwestern Ontario sparked a sympathy protest Friday that halted a dozen CN freight trains and disrupted VIA Rail passenger services.

CN Rail said it was seeking a court injunction after Mohawks from the Tyendinaga reserve east of Belleville, Ont., lit bonfires beside a CN rail track -- blocking the rail line and leaving at least 12 freight trains waiting to get through.

The Mohawks lit the fires to show support for natives maintaining barricades on disputed land in Caledonia, near Hamilton, Ont.

VIA Rail said its trains operating between Toronto and Kingston, Ont., in both directions were being replaced by chartered buses.

Meanwhile, federal, provincial and native officials are set to meet today to restart negotiations in a bid to end the occupation of the disputed land on a Caledonia construction site. 

Emotions remain high after a police raid at the site resulted in the arrests of 16 protesters Thursday.

After the arrests, hundreds of members of the nearby Six Nations reserve scrambled to the scene to take up their defence of land they say was stolen from them more than two centuries ago.

As night approached, a busload of supporters from other reserves in the province arrived and through the night more arrived at a tent city resembling a makeshift refugee camp.

Truckloads of gravel and barricades blocked the main road into the site -- a 40-hectare tract where some 250 homes are slated for construction.

Protesters also burned a small foot bridge, saying they were trying to stop police from using it.

Bonfires burned and drum beats could be heard from the site overnight, said protester Clyde Powless, adding that the situation remains tense.

Occupation

Since Feb. 28, dozens of Six Nations members have occupied the Douglas Creek Estates housing project in Caledonia, a quiet suburban community near Hamilton, Ont., which they say sits on native land.

The protesters argue that the site was part of a large land grant back in 1784, but the provincial and federal governments insist the land was surrendered in 1841 to help build a highway.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the protesters to leave last month, but they ignored the order.

Police then staged a pre-dawn raid Thursday morning, two days after talks to end the dispute broke down.

Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon described the clashes as "very difficult for all involved," but insisted his officers "showed tremendous restraint," adding that two officers sustained injuries during the confrontation.

"Our focus is to try and find a peaceful resolution ...violence is not the answer," he told a news briefing in Cayuga, Ont., Thursday.

Earlier, protester Hazel Hill told CTV that she had struggled with up to five police officers.

"People were pepper sprayed ... another man was shot in the back with a Taser and we were told more police officers would be coming back," Hill said.

The dispute is eerily reminiscent of the 1995 clash at Ipperwash Provincial Park, where a police sniper took the life of protester Dudley George, touching off a controversy that continues to this day.

Well aware of the political impact Ipperwash had on the Conservative government of Mike Harris, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty denied Thursday that he knew police were poised to storm the makeshift encampment.

"This police action comes completely independent of me, my office and my government," McGuinty said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday he was watching the situation closely.

Meanwhile, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said blocking roads and occupying land was not the answer.

"We still believe that the most effective way achieving change is through negotiations," he told reporters.

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Friday April 21, 2006, 12:07 pm
Tags: land human native canada rights claims [add/edit tags]

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