One of the most fascinating parts of attending a ‘militant’ demonstration is watching the interaction between the militants and the police. This varies a lot by country- generally, the more repressive the nation, the more repressive are the police and the more responsive are the protesters. I’ve watched police officers pulverize protesters in Russia, and listened to sound of a cop firing machine gun rounds into the air in post-Soviet Georgia. In Canada, things are a little bit different.
A video was released by the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police today. It was officially labelled as an “Internal Message” about Idle No More, but was released for global public consumption on YouTube. Commissioner Chris Lewis’ message is a familiar one:
“There may be situations requiring our immediate enforcement action-and we will at times do so. But, otherwise, we will continue to investigate these incidents and will lay charges after the event- where appropriate. “
To summarize, he basically said “We won’t get our hands dirty, but we’ll help clean-up the mess when it’s over.” This is no different to how the OPP have handled the indigenous stand-off’s in the city of Caledonia. There, people from the Six Nations started blockades, occupied lands, and caused a serious interruption to the lives of people who lived nearby and over $1 million in damage. A construction worker was hurt in a violent attack that resulted in his having brain damage.
Caledonia got a lot of coverage in the mainstream media, but most of them didn’t dig very deep into the story. Most of the focus was on the grandstanding of indigenous warriors and their white counterparts like Gary McHale- the founder of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE). There was little discussion of the people and organizations behind them- unions including the CAW and CUPE have provided supplies, guidance and people helped accelerate the agitation of warriors.
Ontario’s police chiefs have written a request to the Ontario government for guidance on how they should execute (or not execute) court orders. McGuinty’s response has been to weasel out of making a decision and boomerang the responsibility back towards the police:
“In our democracy, we do not direct the police, that would be inappropriate,” he said. “They make their own operational decisions on the ground. We’ll leave that in their capable hands.”
So, we’re at a Mexican standoff- neither the police nor the government are willing to take responsibility. This already happened once when the anarchists and natives blockaded a rail line in Sarnia. CN Rail got an injunction against the people holding the blockade but after the protesters refused to move the Sarnia police refused to remove them. The judge expressed shock that the police disregarded his order. It was not until January 2nd, a few days later that the police agreed to enforce the order.
On a call to Jim Feeney, the spokesman for CN Rail, he explained that there’s an added layer of complexity to a rail blockade. The rail lines are the jurisdiction of the CN Rail Police. However, the CN police aren’t trained and equipped to handle crowd control situations.
Considering the lack of leadership from the McGuinty government, the lack of will to take action of the police, and the complexity of situations like rail lines- Idle No More may have a tactical advantage in their blockades. Carefully timed, roaming, blockades could outpace the speed of the justice and law enforcement’s ability to tackle them.
So, until someone in the government or police is ready to take leadership- it appears that Idle No More will have a tactical advantage…
Here’s a copy of the OPP Commissioner’s video: