McHale Flees, Conversation Begins
By Deb O’Rourke, writing for the Toronto Media Co-Op, a project of The Dominion News Cooperative.
Caledonia, March 21, 2010: The Lions Club parking lot in Caledonia was nearly empty except for three flags that fluttered in the breeze. Sixteen-year-old Luke threaded his bike around the parking lot as he awaited organizers Merlyn Kinrade and Gary McHale, who set this rally on the International Day for the Elimination of Racism to call for an end to what they see as “two-tier policing” in Caledonia. Their “anti-racist” viewpoint has a twist: on their various websites, McHale and fellow activist Mark Vandermaas use quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King to equate the people of Caledonia with southern blacks and Six Nations with the Klu Klux Klan.
Six Nations member Vince Gilchrist was appalled at those who would equate a few weeks of commuter inconvenience and a few years of uncertainty with the centuries of human rights abuses suffered by Black and First Nations people. He pointed out: “First Nations have been experiencing two-tier justice since they got here… We couldn’t have lawyers; we couldn’t raise legal representation. When the municipalities and towns were taking our lands, we couldn’t raise a defense. It was against the law.”
To resolve the situation between Six Nations and the town of Caledonia, young Luke proposed: “Both sides need to work together to make good progress”. Asked what an agreement might look like, he proposed: “That we share each other’s land and that we’re equal about it…” But, as Six Nations supporters arrived from Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford, Six Nations and Caledonia, he took a position on the opposite side of the street.
Called out by CUPE 3903’s First Nations Solidarity Working Group (FNSWG) to respond to the public call, these mostly non-Native activists carried signs making it clear that McHale and his various organizations don’t represent their views. Niki Thorne of FNSWG explained that the rally organizers “say that they’re anti-racist… but they’re taking some of the most important principles that we hold dear and are misappropriating them in order to increase tensions and divisions between Six Nations people and Caledonia.”
As the organizers of the rally arrived with their Canadian flags and a coterie of locals, press chased them for shots and quotes. Most Caledonians refused offers of leaflets from the Six Nations supporters, and didn’t want to be named in articles. But two co-organizers from outside the community are highly vocal managers of several websites, including Voice of Canada and CANACE (Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality).
Gary McHale has been in trouble with the law over his activities in Caledonia, and has brought private charges against OPP commissioner Julian Fantino. He attributes his legal problems to “two-tier policing”. Mark Vandermaas carried a sign that called for an apology from the OPP, the Ontario premier and Six Nations: “The issue of whether there was racialized policing or not was not in question any more,” he said. “It is not a topic of debate. It’s a fact recognized by every major media outlet in Canada. So it’s time to apologize.”
To shouts of “Boo! Get a job! Shut up! Go home!” Tom Keefer of CUPE 3903 spoke through a portable sound system. He thanked Gary McHale for “taking the initiative” to gather so many people “to take a stand against racism in Caledonia.” Steve Watson of the Canadian Auto Workers challenged CANACE’s narrow focus on “property rights and rule of law” in a way that explained why so much of the support for Six Nations is from unions. He expressed the CAW’s position that treaties and agreements like the Haldimand Proclamation underlying Six Nations’ land claim “are the foundation of a respectful relationship and they’re not what some people would call ‘ancient pieces of paper’. They are valid and current documents.”
As Keefer began to speak, Gary McHale called the rally off: “If the natives held a rally here and we tried to approach them, the police would stop us… What’s happening here happens all the time. The natives are permitted to mingle amongst our group until violence breaks out and we get the blame… So this is now cancelled. We’re back here next Sunday at 2 o’clock. We’ll do it every week until the OPP obey their own policies.” Keefer also promised to return.
In fact, the people attending were nearly all non-Native: about a hundred who gathered with McHale, and about sixty called out by CUPE 3903. People from all sides were feisty, but peaceful. As speech-making and heckling continued, McHale called out a final warning “They’ll try to work you up!” and was gone, with a number of supporters and media.
With McHale gone, conversation broke out among visiting anti-racists and locals. CUPE’s Katie Milley and a Caledonia man talked for nearly an hour. When she suggested “the government needs to take responsibility,” he agreed: “You’re preaching to the choir there: I wish all land claims were settled yesterday.” But on another matter he told her politely: “I’m going to probably disagree with you on that.”
In a different exchange, a man in a ball cap explained: “I don’t have anything against anyone because they may happen to live on a reserve, but I’m opposed to the idea of the reserve itself. I don’t like the concept because to me it’s like apartheid.”
A Native man with long hair responded: “South African apartheid was based on the Canadian reserve system. Do you see the irony of using a day that was set up because that apartheid system was destroyed, to come here to say that white people are oppressed by native people?”
A young man with “F*** White Supremacy” printed on his navy hoodie defended Six Nations’ tactics to a Caledonia woman in a hockey jacket: “I think that by blocking the road you’re going to get the government to listen…”
“No!” she retorted. “Those people go to McGuinty’s house and keep him in there and see how he feels.”
“Yeah! That’d be good” he enthused. “We gotta occupy Queen’s park. We gotta take over.”
“And it’s got to be a lot of people. It’s got to be huge,” she added. “I’m with that.” They cracked up at the idea of trying to run a government together.
As participants left the parking lot, the Gaultieri brothers expressed their pain and rage. An altercation in a house he was building left Sam Gaultieri (in red/black baseball cap) with permanent brain damage. It’s now difficult for him to express himself, but he is a visible and vocal victim of government policies that damage lives on all sides.
The day was peaceful but by evening, Gary McHale had posted a different version of events on the web. In a letter to Minister of Community Safety Rick Bartolucci, Commissioner Julian Fantino and Insp. John Periversoff, McHale claimed that “the OPP refused to perform their duty and instead endangered the residents of Caledonia by allowing Native Protesters and their supporters to physically confront residents who had gathered for a peaceful protest.” He suggested that “the OPP wilfully (sic) created the conditions in hopes that violence would occur in order that OPP could blame me.” He claimed to have “diffused (sic) the situation” by canceling his rally.
During the following week, the Voice of Canada website posted items to discredit CUPE 3903 and especially Tom Keefer. On March 28, as a smaller number of activists and locals assembled in Caledonia, activists associated with CUPE 3903 did not bring a sound system, but carried signs. Though Keefer encouraged him to continue with his rally, Merlyn Kinrade called the rally off because “we are surrounded by people that I don’t consider peaceful.”
On the Voice of Canada website, Mark Vandermaas claimed that he “was not allowed” to make his speech and that the “OPP set up McHale and supporters for violence and false criminal charges—yet again.” Whatever some parties think could have happened, both events were peaceful and conversational. Cameras and recording machines were plentiful, with the OPP getting in on the act.