Baby Steps toward Peace in Caledonia


The Caledonia reconciliation rally on Sunday

Yesterday two organizations, which work for achieving justice and peace in Caledonia (Caledonia Victims Project and CANACE), organized an important event. There were two parts to the event. The first one was Father’s Day BBQ with a lot of food and music. Two hours later came the serious part – a rally for peace and reconciliation, with a plan to place a small monument at the place, where the dispute started long time ago.

Mark makes a point near the reconciliation monument


Signs at the entrance of the farm

If you haven’t been to Caledonia, it is hard to understand what was going on in the town. It took the mainstream media quite a while to wake up to the events, while the lefty slanderers are still trying to distort everything related to the conflict.
I thought how to explain everything in a very concise way and couldn’t find anything that symbolizes the events better than the Caledonia smoke shack. It is located near the farm where the BBQ took place, on the left side of the road to Port Dover.
It is a real shack operated by natives, where you can buy tax-free cigarettes at VERY low prices. All the major brands are available, they are all factory-made and there’s no cigarette factory to be seen around the shack. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that the owners would buy smokes at regular prices and sell them to everybody out of the goodness of their hearts. Some discounts of that kind would be available only on reserves to holders of a Status Indian cards.
But that’s not the reserve – the shack has been built without permission on land owned by an electric power company. The “enterprise” is illegal from every conceivable point of view, yet it has been allowed to operate undisturbed for many years.
Now, imagine that an artist puts a table on a Toronto street to sell jewellery she made – how long would it take before she is ticketed, fined, and chased away? That’s the double standard, which caused the tragic events in Caledonia. The smoke shack is just a symbol, the reality was much worse.
The BBQ was the fun part, with Gary McHale operating the device efficiently and making sure everybody had enough hotdogs and corndogs. Stuart Laughton played some great music with his guitar.

Gary McHale, the BBQ chef, and his guests


Let the music play...

People from Caledonia and other nearby places attended. There was even a group of Jewish supporters of the cause from Hamilton.
Even the media were represented – a lady who manages a local network of radio stations, who drove a long distance to attend. There was a CBC radio reporter, who conducted several interviews and she actually listened to what the guests had to say.

The CBC reporter at work

This was in a stark contrast to the CBC reporter at the High Park event, who spent most of her time arguing with the interviewees.
Despite the fun, that wasn’t a happy-go-lucky event. Many of the guests had gone through events that they’d rather forget.
Everybody had a story to tell and I learned many facts, many of them strange and shocking. Lawlessness dominated Caledonia for years with the silent approval of OPP when a gang of native militants occupied a part of the town.
They showed me the power station into which the extremists drove a truck, set it on fire and caused damage that deprived the area from electricity for weeks. Then there was the place on the highway where the same people dug holes in order to stop the traffic.
They also erected barriers and checkpoints and acted as a police force, frisking everybody and even introducing curfews. I heard about the two police officers, who got lost and were detained and tied by the militants and their vehicle destroyed. They were released after negotiations and none of the native perpetrators was ever prosecuted. The media covered up the case completely.
I met Jeff Parkinson, a cameraman, who at a previous rally had been attacked, beaten and left with brain damage. His camera is always on at the events to make sure that everything is recorded to prevent blackmail and false accusations (and there had been plenty of those in the past).
I also met Doug, an outspoken and energetic fellow who knew everything about the conflict (he reminded me of Dale from King of the Hill). He expressed his position vividly through the cartoon art on his truck, which shows what Dalton McGuinty, Julian Fantino and OPP did to Caledonia (better see the picture, since I can’t mention that activity here).

Doug has a clear message to McGuinty, Fantino and OPP

He told me how everybody lived in fear for years. The free reign that the militants were given by the Ontario Government, affected not only the local people but also the natives. There was a case where a native university student in Toronto condemned officially the lawlessness and her parents’ house on the Six Nations reserve was torched by somebody.
Then there was the lady who shall remain unnamed for the sake of her privacy. She still needs medications to cope with the consequences of the horror that her family had to endure. They lived near the disputed area and were harassed repeatedly – the occupiers often spent all night playing loud music near the
house (they didn’t need to go to work the next morning). The family was searched regularly by the thugs. They were even told to remove the Canadian flag or else something bad may happen to their house (they removed the flag to stay out of trouble).
In the beginning, she used to call the police for help, but they never showed up, afraid of confronting the thugs. Once she called to complain that they wanted to frisk (or rather grope) her 21-year old daughter, who lived in the house. The best that the police officer on the other end was able to come up with, was to ask her why her daughter still lives in her parents’ house.
Ironically, her son works for the OPP, but she didn’t tell me how he felt about that. Her daughter was planning to join the OPP, but after all that she went through, she couldn’t do it.
The whole situation looked so surreal to me – it was impossible to comprehend how something like that can go on for years in the 21st century in one of the leading democracies in the world.
The things are changing, but slowly, and the fear is still there. After many years, the mainstream media finally realized that there was a problem. Then came the activism of Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas. Then Christie Blatchford’s book Helpless came out – it put that injustice in the national spotlight.
The local movement for justice is entirely based on the principles of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. All they want is to get the attention of the government and rectify the consequences of many years of lawlessness. Yet they are those who get beaten and assaulted by the other side. I already mentioned Joseph. Many others have spent time in hospitals or under arrest at police stations. A few months ago Gary McHale was assaulted by a trespassing union activist on private property, yet McHale was the one to be arrested and charged. The case was so ridiculous that even the Crown realized they’ve gone too far and dropped the charges.
At 2 p.m. we were supposed to go to the disputed area to erect a small monument calling for reconciliation. Almost every such event in the past has ended with assaults and arrests of the peaceful protestors.

Shortly before leaving...

They anticipated the same to happen today. Just before leaving, Gary McHale gave short instructions – don’t respond to verbal insults or physical assault, just notify the police who’ll be present there.

Gary McHale explains how the protestors can avoid being beaten...

We drove to the place. There was already a not very friendly crowd assembled there. The majority were natives. The lefty loons from the city, who usually made the bulk of the protesters, were underrepresented today. The police cars (mostly unmarked) were everywhere, they even had some concealed at Canadian Tire’s parking. The police officers vastly outnumbered the participants on both sides.

The crowd is waiting...


The "Mohawk Warrior" flag - a "proud" symbol of hostility

After short talk with the police chief, we were escorted to the opposite side of the road. Then Mark Vandermaas, Gary McHale and a representative of the Jewish community gave short speeches about the need of justice and reconciliation.

We've just arrived...


Gary is giving explanations while the police are taping the "troublemakers"


Last preparations...


Ready to go...


OPP escorts us to the other side of the road...


Mark speaks


Gary talks...


Words from the Jewish community...

The opposite crowd got more hostile, but that showed only in smirks, sneers and whispers. At the same time, two guys who were deep inside the occupied territory started yelling insults (you can see one of them in the picture below). Since they were at a way too safe distance, it was hard to comprehend all of the insults, so their efforts didn’t bring much of an effect.

A lonely voice cries obscenities from the wilderness...


They could've been firendlier than that, but at least they didn't try to beat us up...


Big Lefty Sister is watching...


Time to go...

Later we learned that it took the police many hours of convincing the occupiers to behave in order to create that resemblance of peace.
The whole experience was very excruciating and unpleasant. The hostility left a real bad taste. However, when we went back to the farm, Mark and Gary were ecstatic. They considered the event a miracle and a historical achievement – for the first time during one of their demonstrations nobody was beaten,
assaulted or arrested.
It’s hard to share their excitement, but I could imagine how bad it had been before, if today’s event looked better. Obviously, here you can advance only with baby steps and must be really persistent to achieve any progress.
I want to end with something that Doug told me during our long talk. He said that there were many different people on the reserve – some look native, others are whiter than him. He knows many of them, they attended the same schools and chased the same girls. Whenever one of them tries to bring up the colonial past as an explanation for all problems, he answers that it’s not worth it to get all wound up over issues that have happened long before both of them were born. All that matters is what we can do here and now to resolve our conflicts.
And I agree with him – we need to resolve our conflicts by treating everybody equally. As citizens of Canada we have exactly the same rights and responsibilities. Isn’t it time to take them seriously for the benefit of ourselves and our country?
Maybe that would be the way to make the illegal smoke shack disappear…
© 2011
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  1. says:

    This is Awesome! Thank you so much.

  2. […] “If you haven’t been to Caledonia, it is hard to understand what was going on in the town. It took the mainstream media quite a while to wake up to the events, while the lefty slanderers are still trying to distort everything related to the conflict.”… […]

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