Earlier this year, as many readers of this blog surely know, there were several heated crises within a larger standoff between First Nations people, the Canadian government, and settlers in the Ontario town of Caledonia.
The Native people had been (and are still!) standing their ground in a “reclamation” of land that is rightfully theirs, but which the “funny money” settler land deeds seemed to say belonged to a real estate developer.
In today’s Hamilton Spectator, the following article throws further light on the shenanigans of the Canadian State throughout this conflict, revealing as it does the involvement of large numbers of RCMP officers from a variety of different units:
RCMP specialists at land dispute
by Marissa Nelson and Joan Walters
The RCMP had more than 80 officers working at a native occupation in Caledonia, including elite troops from the biker enforcement unit, clandestine drug lab and national security teams.
Documents obtained by The Spectator provide the first confirmation the Mounties were present in significant numbers in and around Douglas Creek Estates, the half-built subdivision that has been occupied by Six Nations protesters since February.
On April 20 alone, the day the OPP swooped in and then were pushed back by protesters, at least 70 Mounties were present. Most of the RCMP officers stayed in the area at least three days.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police records show there was a special operations centre in Markham for the project, dubbed “Project O Caledonia.” Staff planned ahead, preparing radios and equipment for the operation and packing tactical troop trailers for the crews.
The documents also show the RCMP arranged for their helicopter to be in the area the week of the raid and that Mounties were stationed at the Hamilton airport, confirming complaints by native protesters that they were under constant but unrevealed monitoring by security forces.
The Mounties remained involved in intelligence and surveillance work at least into May. The natives claim the subdivision is rightfully theirs, part of a broader land claim along the Grand River which has prompted federal and provincial negotiations.
Specialist RCMP units represented by officers called up for duty in the area included criminal intelligence, drug trafficking, border and customs control, organized crime, passport fraud and proceeds of crime units.
Despite an RCMP inspector’s statement in April that there were “a few” Mounties in Caledonia, more than 250 pages of documentation obtained under Access to Information legislation show a total of 82 RCMP officers filed overtime or expenses or both for the Caledonia dispute in April and May.
At least 70 officers worked the day of the raid, with one of the earliest staffers being a member of the biker enforcement unit. He reported to work at 5:30 a.m., around the time the OPP moved in.
The RCMP says its officers were there for manpower support at the request of the Ontario Provincial Police, and nothing should be read into the fact that many officers had special training in such areas as criminal intelligence, drug trafficking and border and customs control.
That is not how the disclosure was viewed by natives, who have claimed for months they have been under intrusive, unwarranted surveillance by all security forces.
“We’re criminals, drug-smuggling, gun-toting terrorists whose mission is to destroy the government,” said Hazel Hill, spokesperson for the protesters. “That’s how they view us. That’s the lump sum of the attitude.”
Dick Hill, a Six Nations resident, said that shortly after the barricades went up on April 20, four Hells Angels showed up, surprising the natives.
“That’s probably what the biker boys were doing there,” he said, referring to RCMP officers from the Biker Enforcement Unit.
Hill said he doesn’t know why the outlaw bikers showed up. Asked if the RCMP’s involvement in Caledonia may hurt the agency’s relations with First Nations, Hill laughed: “I don’t think it could get any worse.”
Both Hazel and Dick Hill, a married couple, see the RCMP records as vindication that they haven’t been paranoid about surveillance.
“I think they’re still here collecting intelligence. I bet you a million dollars they’re listening to this phone call,” Dick Hill said.
“Welcome to the world of being an Indian.”
He said that in April, the couple would hear a helicopter overhead, call police and ask what they were up to, and be told “there’s no helicopter.”
RCMP Chief Superintendent Bob Paulson, from the RCMP’s major and organized crime unit, said he didn’t know the helicopter had been deployed, though the documents show it was.
Paulson said the RCMP only launched Project O Caledonia because the OPP asked them to help.
He stressed that the RCMP officers weren’t near the centre of the action on the day of the raid.
“They stood around for the large part of the time,” he said. “I don’t think we ever got deployed into a hot area following the so-called raid. For the most part they sat around, claimed overtime and meals.”
Paulson said the officers sent to Caledonia were not chosen because of their expertise, but because they were available and had tactical troop training — an asset in a large conflict. Such training, which the OPP asked for, deals with crowd control and public order.
Most of the officers sent to Caledonia came from the RCMP’s “O” division, which has 1,200 officers and employees across Ontario.
“Their primary duties had nothing to do with their selection,” Paulson said.
Any thought that specialized officers were brought in for a fishing expedition is “nonsense,” he added.
But security experts say it’s appropriate to ask why officers with heavy-duty training in specialties like biker gangs and drugs would be sent to Caledonia when they were supposed to be there just for support.
“The question is absolutely legitimate,” says Christine Silverberg, a former Calgary police chief who has been credited with easing escalating tensions between Hamilton and native protesters over the Red Hill Valley Expressway.
“But care has to be taken to avoid conclusions that would suggest the reason for these specialists was because of an anticipated need for their expertise in the context of native relations.”
Silverberg, a former deputy police chief in Hamilton who now is a lawyer with Gowlings in Calgary, said there are going to be “very diverse perceptions” of what happened in Caledonia.
“I’ve worked with aboriginal communities in many contexts,” she said, adding that she understands why the natives would see things one way.
But Silverberg said that “professional police officers are unlikely in that context to be going on fishing expeditions because of the potential to escalate problems.”
Security consultant Norman Inkster, a former RCMP commissioner, says the presence of specialized officers “doesn’t necessarily reflect the fact they think there might have been money launderers there or anything else. It’s just that they’re available.”
A quick question: anybody have a link on how to file the kind of Access To Information request that got this story? This is something we should be doing…