Southwestern Ontario on edge .. Six Nations protest and Bandidos massacre .. new twists

Jun 17th, 2006 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

SATURDAY, JUNE 17. GRAND BEND. Southwestern Ontario is the part of Ontario that is least like what some people think Ontario is like.

Right now it is most famous for the aggressive Six Nations Iroquois land-claim protest in Caledonia, Haldimand County, and the Bandidos biker massacre near Shedden and Iona Station in Elgin County.

And this past week has seen fresh developments in both stories.

Much of the wider interest the stories have attracted no doubt flows from their stark illustrations of how violence can descend on peaceful rural countrysides.

They also draw attention to the home truth that Southwestern Ontario is just a far northern extension of the continental Midwest.

(Or as a historian from an old country wrote more than 100 years ago: “Ontario is an American State, of the northern type.”)

Negotiations resume in Caledonia … Province set to buy disputed land …

In some senses the Six Nations Iroquois land-claim protest in Caledonia isn’t quite in Southwestern Ontario. It is too close to Toronto (to say nothing of Hamilton), and too far away from Detroit. At best it is on the far eastern cusps of the region.

Yet there is something about the protest that does fit some current restless mood in the most southwesterly parts of Canada’s most populous province. And when you talk about the Six Nations of the Grand River Valley … well, even geographically the Grand River is not too bad a definition of where Southwestern Ontario begins, as you drive west from Toronto.

In any event the two fresh developments in the Six Nations land-claim protest at Caledonia are that negotiations among aboriginal leaders and government officials have resumed, and that the Ontario provincial government has now agreed to buy the land in dispute from the developer who owns it under the present state of the law.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had earlier called negotiations off, to show his growing impatience over aggressive misbehavior among some Six Nations protesters. Six Nations barricades on Argyle Street in Caledonia and Highway 6 were subsequently removed (though protesters are still occupying the Douglas Creek land in dispute itself).

One of seven protesters wanted in connection with “a violent clash in which one policeman and two cameramen were hurt last week” has also now been arrested and “charged with intimidation and robbery.” Six others wanted in the same connection still remain at large. But the one arrest and the barricade removals were apparently enough to re-start negotiations over the disputed land claim – “attended by provincial negotiator Jane Stewart, federal mediator Barbara McDougall and Six Nations representatives.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario government’s decision to buy the disputed land from Henco Industries Ltd., for an as yet undetermined price is presumably meant to help move the negotiations along. (Some claim the land could be worth as much as $45 million, though there seems general agreement that this will not be what the province pays.) But just where all this is finally heading still seems distressingly unclear.

A University of Toronto aboriginal studies instructor who is close to the protesters has raised troubling further prospects. The majority of the aboriginal population, Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux has pointed out, “is under the age of 25, and the potential exists for another violent incident triggered by frayed nerves … It’s very difficult for the elders to keep people in line because they just don’t see … things changing quickly enough … I’m afraid it’s going to create a further rift in relations between the Canadian public and aboriginals.”

With some 87% of more than 14,000 respondents in a recent Globe and Mail online poll answering Yes to the question “Is it time the Ontario government put an end to the protest in Caledonia?”, this seems a quite reasonable fear.

What even many non-aboriginal Canadians of goodwill still don’t understand is why this particular disputed piece of land is so important as to justify increasingly flagrant abuses of the law. There are “about 20 outstanding Six Nations land claims along the Grand River corridor, and another 45 by other aboriginal groups across Ontario.” If the most aggressive Six Nations activists really want to be the kind of sovereign community they claim to be, what aboriginal rights inside Canada can they finally expect, beyond the right of their young Mohawk warriors to die in defence of their illusions – and all that so sadly follows from that?

Meanwhile, the studied unwillingness of the present Conservative federal government in Ottawa to step in with some kind of symbolic reassurance about the future of the aboriginal peoples of Canada in their own country is still not helping at all either. And it makes Ontario provincial Conservative leader John Tory’s low-ground partisan shots about the lack of “leadership” on this issue shown by the present Liberal provincial government of Ontario sound fatuous at best. At least no one has actually died yet, and hopefully that at least will continue to be true. And at some point people on both sides of the current divide might remember that “Canada” is actually an Iroquoian word.

Charges laid against three more in biker massacre, from Manitoba … Now there are eight victims and eight accused …

In the quite different case of the Bandidos biker gang massacre – in Elgin County deep in the heart of Southwestern Ontario – eight people have already died. And that is of course the point of the story.

In the latest development here, three more individuals have been arrested and charged in connection with the murders, which took place this past April 78, 2006. Added to the five who were already arrested and charged earlier, this brings the number of accused up to eight as well, tidily matching the eight people who were murdered.

Another wrinkle in this latest development is that the three additional accused who have just been arrested are from Manitoba, and were apparently members of a small Bandidos biker gang chapter in Winnipeg.

Yet another wrinkle in the new Manitoba arrests is that one of the individuals involved, Michael James Sandham, 36, is a former police officer from the town of East St. Paul, a community of some 8,000 people northeast of Winnipeg. Mr. Sandham was also “a soldier with the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry” in the first half the 1990s.

It “is alleged Mr. Sandham became president of the fledging chapter of the Bandidos when they officially moved into Winnipeg early in 2005.” By this time he was no longer serving as a police officer in East St. Paul. The press also notes that “Mr. Sandham is not the first former police officer to be tied to bikers. Guy Lepage, a Montreal police officer, was a close lieutenant of Quebec biker leader Maurice (Mom) Boucher and was eventually arrested and jailed on cocaine trafficking charges.”

(And then, to round out this theme on a cross-Canada basis, the Vancouver Sun has just reported that Adam Jonathan Clarke, a 23-year-old former Mountie in Langley, BC has appeared in court on a charge of “trying to lure teenage girls over the Internet.” Clarke “was arrested at work on June 5, 2005, and a police computer, allegedly used in the offences, was seized … The alleged attempts … involved a 12-year-old Langley girl and a 15-year-old Richmond girl.”)

The others from Manitoba who have been arrested and charged in connection with the Bandidos biker massacre in Ontario are Dwight Mushey, 36, and Marcello Aravena, 30. Along with Mr. Sandham they “were arrested at three locations” across Winnipeg, as “part of a joint effort between the Winnipeg Police Service and the OPP [Ontario Provincial Police], dubbed Operation Octagon.'”

All three “are charged with eight counts each of first-degree murder … Police wouldn’t say if any of the men were present when eight members or associates of the Bandidos were shot to death and stuffed inside four abandoned vehicles outside a farm” in Elgin County, in Southwestern Ontario. A “woman was also arrested, but wasn’t charged.” Police continue to stress that this case is all about an “internal cleansing” inside the Bandidos biker gang in Canada. And there is no wider danger to the public at large.

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