Jonathan Hayward/ CP Photo
Evidence about last year’s rail blockade was just made public.
For ontario police commissioner Julian Fantino, the native community of Tyendinaga, near Belleville, may have become his own personal Waterloo. Or maybe Little Big Horn would be a better metaphor.
Fantino probably wishes he'd never heard of the place now - the tiny Mohawk hamlet, I mean.
In the past few weeks, two locals have become a substantial thorn in the commissioner's side. One is an unemployed police officer and the other a career protester.
Shawn Brant was charged after a blockade of the 401 and Via Rail lines on Tyendinaga territory in June 2007. He said at the time he was protesting a local quarry, substandard conditions on reserves and the feds' sluggishness in resolving outstanding land claims.
An interesting strategy this - battling sluggishness with sluggishness. Traffic on that stretch of the 401 became as rare as the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup finals. And Via for once had a legitimate reason for running late.
Now, with the courts' July 18 release of transcripts from Brant's preliminary hearing last year, Fantino's actions are public. Wiretaps, themselves legally questionable, record the commissioner negotiating with Brant directly.
Fantino's mediation techniques include threats like "I'm now telling you, pull the plug or you will suffer grave consequences." Picture a marriage counsellor saying that. Fantino also told Brant, "Your whole world's gonna come crashing down," and, "You're gonna force me to do everything I can within your community and everywhere to destroy your reputation."
Anybody willing to drive, let alone blockade, the 401 probably doesn't scare easy. Still, these are pretty substantial threats for somebody trying to defuse a tense situation. This could so easily have been Ipperwash II: the OPP are back, and this time it's personal! Brant, no hero to some indigenous people who see him as a provocateur, was too smart to be goaded into retorts he would regret.
As if the tapes weren't enough, there's another another disgruntled Indian in Fantino's cupboard. An officer from that same community also rocked the canoe. Last year, in an interview with a student newspaper, the police chief of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Larry Hay, called the RCMP "a racist organization" and said "the OPP and SQ (Sûreté du Québec) are no different."
A few days later he was suspended with pay, and the professional standards branch of the OPP launched an internal investigation. Eight months later, Hay was fired.
Just this week, a report from a retired adviser on Aboriginal justice issues for the Ministry of the Attorney General called into question the legality of that firing. It seems the band council of Tyendinaga was not consulted.
The Indians are restless, but Fantino's the one probably losing sleep. It's been said you don't judge a man by his friends but by his enemies. So Hay and Brant must be pretty important to have the OPP's big cheese pissed off. I just have Bell Canada.
What's next? If there's one thing Oka and Ipperwash taught natives, it's that Canada is a country of inquiries. For these, there are finally enough trained and eager Aboriginal legal experts these days. I think there's a secret reserve out west that breeds nothing but lawyers.
Most native people are used to grief from white guys in power. Remember Columbus's dealings with the first Americans? Or John Cabot and the Beothuks? Lucky for them there was nothing on tape.