Beaucage takes a ‘wait and see’ approach

Betsy Powell
The Toronto Star

Appointing Julian Fantino to run the Ontario Provincial Police would be a setback to relations between natives and the OPP, the head of a Toronto aboriginal legal clinic warned in a letter to the government a month before this week’s announcement.
“It is our respectful position that the appointment of such an individual as OPP Commissioner would seriously undermine relations between Aboriginal communities and the OPP,” Kimberly Murray, executive director of the Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, wrote in the Sept. 15 letter.
The letter was sent to Monte Kwinter, minister in charge of community safety and correction services. No response was received.
The letter made no mention of the now eight-month-old land-claim standoff at Caledonia — expected to be one of Fantino’s first challenges when he takes up his new position Oct. 30. Gwen Boniface retired earlier this year as OPP commissioner amid criticism that the force was unwilling to enforce the law against Six Nations activists occupying the Douglas Creek Estates.
The Caledonia situation threatens to heat up this weekend with a protest march planned for Sunday. David Ramsay, the minister of aboriginal affairs, warned this week: “It could be quite a mess,” he told The Hamilton Spectator. “It could be a recipe for disaster.”
Ramsay called Gary McHale, the organizer of the controversial “March for Freedom”, and offered the grounds of Queen’s Park as an alternate venue for the protest. The offer was declined.
Six Nations officials have asked the province to stop the march.
Ramsay said in an interview he understands the frustration people feel over the standoff but vowed, “It won’t have a lasting impression like Oka.” 
He was referring to the showdown between natives, Quebec police and the Canadian army in summer 1990.
Fantino said this week he plans to get “up to speed on all the nuances and all the issues” related to Caledonia. 
But Murray said in her letter she was concerned about Fantino’s record with aboriginal people. 
As Toronto police chief, he dismantled the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit of the police service “without notice to or consultation with the Aboriginal community.”
The OPP play a “dominant” role in the policing of aboriginal people and communities throughout Ontario, particularly in municipalities where the local council has contracted with the OPP for police services, the letter states. It adds the commissioner “must have a strong knowledge of the issues that face aboriginal peoples and … appreciate the historical context of the current tensions involving aboriginal communities in Ontario.”
Murray acknowledged via email, however, that Fantino restored the unit, formed in 1992, after “eventually” agreeing to meet with native leaders.
Others said they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
John Beaucage, Grand Council Chief representing 42 First Nations in Ontario, congratulated Fantino in a press release but said while “we have all the confidence in Mr. Fantino, we hope that the government and the OPP is not off on the wrong foot, given our exclusion from the selection process for the new Commissioner.”
Beaucage went on to urge him to “dismiss arguments from groups favouring a confrontational and violent means of dealing with the situation in Caledonia. We have all seen the tragic results of the Ipperwash approach.”
Karen Mock, chair of the province’s hate crimes community working group who has worked closely with various police services, including OPP, said yesterday the provincial force has made “really significant strides in aboriginal-awareness training, anti-racism and diversity initiatives, employment equity” and has taken a role in recognizing and enacting policies on racial profiling.