Caledonia family lived ‘terrified existence’

(Nov 13, 2009)

A Caledonia family lived inside "a war zone," says a Hamilton lawyer whose clients will testify about being trapped inside the barricades during the 2006 native occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates.

John Evans, who represents David Brown and Dana Chatwell in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Ontario government and Ontario Provincial Police, said the OPP turned its back on the besieged family because of the political sensitivity surrounding Six Nations land claims and permitted lawless and masked young men to "roam the occupied site at will," to harass and terrorize the family.

In his opening statement, Evans said the civil trial will hear how Chatwell was forced to close her home-based beauty salon because of the barricades outside their Argyle Street South home, how the couple sent their son away at times to keep him safe, how Brown’s stress and absenteeism caused him to lose his job at a lumber yard, how the couple was issued illegal passports by the protesters and could not move freely to and from their property, how their home was ransacked and how they endured open thefts of groceries and beer from their vehicle by protesters operating the barricades.

"It is unequivocally true that for over a month the plaintiffs had no protection by the police. They lived a terrified existence between the two sets of barricades on Argyle Street," their lawyer told Superior Court Justice Thomas Bielby.

Evans said the protesters were joined by a group known as the Mohawk Warriors. He said the Warriors were acknowledged by the OPP’s director of operations, Superintendent John Cain, to be a "lawless group, usually armed, with a reputation akin to the Hell’s Angels."

Brown and his family had no warning on April 20, 2006, when hundreds of OPP in assault gear carried out an early-morning raid on the 28-hectare subdivision adjacent to their home. Evans said the OPP were repelled by a "1,000 or more natives who came off the reservation on foot, on ATVs and in trucks — wielding 2X4s and shovels like weapons." He said the protesters smashed police vehicles, assaulted officers and drove the OPP off the occupied property.

"You have a family that were not warned that there was going to be a pitched battle right next to them. The police state they didn’t want to tip the natives off.

"But couldn’t a squad car have been there to take the plaintiffs to safety as the battle started? Could armed police officers have been stationed to protect their property?" he asked.

He said the court will hear about an incident in which protesters refused to let Brown through the barricades on his return from a Blue Jays game in Toronto. The protesters claimed Brown was out past their curfew. Brown told them what he thought of their curfew and drove through the barricade. The protesters followed him to his house.

"Dave is surrounded on his own property by a gang of men in balaclavas and bandanas riding their ATVs in circles around him," said Evans. "All events are witnessed by the OPP. No police intervention is undertaken to protect this man in his own home."

Evans said his client was forced into a truck by the men and taken to the OPP barricade, where he was arrested by the OPP, placed in a police cruiser and driven to Cayuga to spend the night in jail.

Brown was released the next day but never charged. He is claiming damages against the OPP for false arrest and for its refusal to charge the men in balaclavas who trespassed on his property, threatened, intimidated and forcibly confined him.

The family was subjected to headlights shining on their home, to loud noises, including chanting and drumming through the night.

"Canadians live in a society with expectations that the police will protect them from threats, from vandalism and intimidation," Evans said. "The Canadian citizen has, and is entitled to have, expectations of fundamental certainties. Canadians expect to be safe from unlawful conduct."

The plaintiffs seek $5 million in damages from either the OPP or the provincial government or both, for abuse of power, negligence, false imprisonment, assault, trespass, illegal surveillance and breach of their Charter rights.

They are also asking for $2 million in aggravated and punitive damages.

Bielby earlier dismissed an application by Crown counsel Dennis Brown, who asked the judge to withdraw from the case because he once had a limited professional relationship with Evans. The plaintiff’s lawyer was hired in 1995 by the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company to represent Bielby in a negligence complaint. The judge ruled his fleeting contact with Evans more than a decade ago would not affect his impartiality in the case now before the court.


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