TTORONTO – Ontario’s top cop has taken to YouTube to defend provincial police handling of Idle No More demonstrations and blockades, saying it fits into an overall strategy that’s difficult to explain to the public.
In a video message posted Tuesday, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris Lewis responded to criticism of what some perceive as a failure to end rail blockades and other protest disruptions.
He pointed to the OPP’s framework for police preparedness for aboriginal critical incidents, which was developed in the aftermath of the 1995 police shooting death of native protester Dudley George at Ipperwash Park. It stresses negotiation and minimal use of force.
“These concepts and strategies developed from experience, hard work and common sense are difficult and complex to explain to the general public,” Lewis said in the video.
“I totally understand that.”
An Ontario judge who has issued two injunctions to end blockades of critical rail arteries, including one in OPP jurisdiction, slammed police last week for not enforcing the injunctions right away to end the aboriginal protests.
Superior Court Judge David Brown ordered a small group of protesters who blocked the railway near Kingston, Ont., affecting freight and passenger train service between Toronto and Montreal, to leave in a few hours.
But, Brown said, the OPP officer on the scene of the blockade told the sheriff it was “too dangerous” to serve the injunction that night on the 15 protesters and suggested it be done the next morning.
That came after another similar injunction issued by Brown to end a First Nations blockade of a rail line in Sarnia, Ont., wasn’t enforced for two weeks by Sarnia police. Brown did not mince words in his ruling criticizing what he called police inaction.
“No person in Canada stands above or outside of the law,” Brown said.
“Although that principle of the rule of law is simple, at the same time it is fragile. Without Canadians sharing a public expectation of obeying the law, the rule of law will shatter.”
Lewis does not mention the judge or the court decision in his message, instead lamenting criticism “in the media” from “various pundits and commentators with their own agendas.”
Public safety is the primary concern and Lewis trumpeted the fact that there haven’t been any reports of injuries to protesters, police or members of the public at the protests in OPP jurisdiction.
“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 lay charges after the event where appropriate.”
No one from the OPP communications department was immediately available Tuesday to say whether any charges have been laid after Idle No More blockades or protests.
The Idle No More movement began last month in protest of a federal government omnibus bill that First Nations groups say threatens their treaty rights set out in the Constitution.
Police services are not able to solve those longtime disputes, Lewis said. The commissioner said he would rather be criticized for a decision not to jeopardize people’s lives than for taking “unnecessary, aggressive action that undoubtedly will.”
“First Nations have the ability to paralyze this country by shutting down travel and trade routes,” he said.
“It is a difficult situation no matter how we view or address it.”