Monday, 4 April 2011

David Peterson and the Caledonia Crisis

As a follower of Caledonia Wake Up Call, Jeff Parkinson, Voice of Canada, International Free Press Society – Canada (IFPS-Canada) and related websites, I know about the “No More Nightmares” event, which was sponsored by the Free Thinking Film Society and IFPS-Canada.  It was held on March 22, 2011 at the Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa.  The event included presentations by Caledonia residents and activists who are concerned about the breakdown in the rule of law in this Southwestern Ontario community.  I would like to comment on two of the presentations that mention the central topic of my post:  David Peterson. 

Marie Trainer was the mayor of Haldimand County (which includes Caledonia) from November 2003 to October 2010.  She was therefore in this position on February 28, 2006 when Six Nations protesters first occupied what was then the Douglas Creek Estates.  She says that during the height of the confrontations between the protesters and Caledonia residents, the following activities took place:

Digging up a main road in Caledonia; burning tires in the middle of a main street; throwing a van over the bridge onto the road below; burning down a bridge in the middle of Caledonia; running over a police officer; taking another 2 police officers hostage; beating up and permanently injuring a developer; holding a former premier hostage for several hours; making residents who live in the area show passports issued by protesters. . . .

The “former premier” referred to is David Peterson, who was Ontario premier from 1985 to 1990.  Peterson was also the “provincial lead” negotiator for the Ontario government during the Caledonia crisis, April 29 to June 5, 2006.  During this period he held 13 meetings with Six Nations and other “stakeholders.”  These meetings led to the May 23, 2006 removal of the barricades that had been placed on Argyle Street.

Although many saw the removal of the barricades as a positive step, people on the Sixth Line of Caledonia knew that the crisis was far from over.  Some of these residents expressed concerns about the deals that Ontario government officials had made with the protesters in order to secure the removal.  One of these deals was to not have Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) policing on the Sixth Line from April 20, 2006 onwards.  In fact, policing was not restored until around March 2010.

One of the Sixth Line residents who spoke out about the problems was a teenager named Pam Dudych.  The Ottawa event included a video that was filmed on April 17, 2007, when Dudych attended a Queen's Park rally organized by Caledonia activists, including Gary McHale, Merlyn Kinrade, Jeff Parkinson and Mark Vandermaas.  At the end of Dudych’s presentation, she says:

People on the 6th line have not had a good night’s sleep for over a year now!!! That’s sad!  This is why we need your help!  I’m 14 years old and I will fight with as much power as I have to get police and justice back on my road!  I know Mr. Peterson made the mistake of taking it away and it’s sad when he can’t fix his own mistakes and that I am, a 14 year old girl trying!

Obviously Dudych felt that Peterson played a role in her distress.  I don’t know enough about the goings on behind the scenes to say what role exactly Peterson may have taken in the removal of policing, but certainly Dudych was not alone in feeling he was at least partly responsible.

On March 31, 2011, I had a telephone conversation with Marie Trainer, and she said she thought there was media coverage of Peterson being taken hostage by the protesters.  She said it occurred on Argyle Street South before the barricades were taken down.  I have not been able to find the media coverage for this, so if any readers of this post can fill me in, please do so.  However, I do not think it’s surprising that this could have occurred since Peterson himself reportedly described one particularly wrenching time in the conflict as, “the day the Devil threw a party and everybody came.”

Although I have had many positive experiences with aboriginals, I have also been intimidated and harassed by some of them for what I consider to be completely unfounded reasons—I was used as a sacrificial lamb.  Therefore, I can well imagine it must have been very upsetting for Peterson to be held hostage for hours.  Did this incident contribute to his making concessions to the protesters that maybe he should not have made?

I am old enough to remember Peterson’s often less than successful relations with aboriginals during his term as premier.  He alienated various native groups across Ontario, particularly when they concluded that he had failed to live up to promises he had made to them regarding the Meech Lake Accord.  In fact, in June 1990, one aboriginal leader said Peterson had betrayed the country’s native people.  Mind you, aboriginal issues were a contentious matter throughout most of Peterson’s tenure, e.g., the Oka crisis.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that Peterson has gone from alienating the aboriginals when he was premier, to being overly accommodating when he was involved with the 2006 Caledonia negotiations.  He has been quoted several times as saying he views the Caledonia situation as “heartbreaking.”  But saying it’s heartbreaking is not good enough for me.

Some people have accused the Caledonia activists of stirring up trouble because they have asked for apologies from Six Nations, the OPP and the Ontario government.  But I completely agree these apologies are needed.  For years I tried to set up a healing circle regarding the harassment and intimidation I experienced, and was astounded by the runaround I got.  Although some aboriginals showed concern about what happened to me, they still would not follow through and help me bring about this healing circle.  I can personally identify with the distress being experienced by many Caledonia residents because they have not experienced the closure they deserve. 

This lack of accountability contributes to a breakdown in trust that does not help either the people of Caledonia or Six Nations to move forward.  The bottom line is, if there are no official apologies, then who’s to say it won’t happen again?  I advise all federal, provincial and municipal officials to bear this in mind the next time they are at the negotiating table.

• Helpless by Blatchford.  ‘No More Nightmares.’

• International Free Press Society – Canada.  Caledonia:  No More Nightmares.

• Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.  Land Claims/Haudenosaunee/Six Nations  Haldimand Tract Negotiations.  Background. 

• Voice of Canada.  Caledonia’s Youngest Hero:  14 year old Pam ‘Dancer’ Dudych.

• Jeff Parkinson.  Featured Video:  Pam ‘Dancer’ Dudych at Queen’s Park.

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