Feds should deal with aboriginal disputes: Fantino
TORONTO - Aboriginal land claims and issues surrounding conflicts in Caledonia and Deseronto are federal matters and there has to be a response from Ottawa, the commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police said Saturday.
Julian Fantino said the current conflicts and the potential for future ones have put a lot of pressure on OPP resources.
He also complained his force has been unfairly treated by the media and some politicians in dealing with the year-old standoff in Caledonia, south of Hamilton.
"Enough is enough now and we're just not going to take it anymore,'' a frustrated Fantino told reporters after addressing a meeting of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Toronto.
"Police are neither the cause of the problem, nor are they the solution to the problem,'' he said.
Authorities are concerned that decades of federal stalling on native land claims could lead to an eruption of new flashpoints across the country.
The number of backlogged land claims has soared to about 800 from 250 since 1993.
Growing tensions flared earlier this month as a splinter group of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte paralyzed freight and passenger rail traffic with a blockade on a busy Toronto-Montreal line near Deseronto.
The blockade, which lasted about 30 hours, was held on the one-year anniversary of an OPP raid at the aboriginal occupation in Caledonia.
In the pre-dawn raid, officers armed with a court order arrested some protesters while others were pepper-sprayed or hit with Tasers.
But less than an hour after police arrived, the protesters pushed their way back onto the disputed land, forcing the officers to retreat.
Fantino said he has no regrets about how his force has handled the situation in Caledonia since he took the helm.
"Our men and women have been there all along. We've had some 40 police officers injured. They've logged an awful lot of time out there trying to keep the peace and keep things civil.''
He admitted the potential for confrontation and violence was great and his officers were trying hard to keep things from exploding.
"You get people coming into a community who do not live there -- they've got no real stake in that community -- they've got no legitimate reason for being there . . . they're troublemakers.''
Speaking about the aboriginal land claims, Fantino said "native issues in this country are primarily a federal responsibility,'' adding that complaints of "`two-tier'' justice for aboriginals and non-aboriginals are "absolutely phoney.''
"It has to be a federal response here. These are federal issues that go back to treaties.''
Among other issues concerning his force Fantino listed traffic safety.
"Just to give you an idea,'' he said," in OPP patrolled highways last year, we had 444 people killed, 113 of those with no seat belts and a good number of those were impaired.''
He listed "speed, alcohol, drugs and lack of respect for the rules of the road'' as contributing factors to what he called "a tragedy in our highways.''
The OPP is much more visible on the highways and is working to be more proactive in targeting violators, Fantino said.
"We're talking about changing people's habits and attitudes and that's going to take a while, but we're going to stay with it.''