OPP seize Spectator photos

OPP seize Spectator photos

Susan Clairmont
The Hamilton Spectator
May 8, 2008

A native man on an ATV is speeding dangerously close to OPP officers standing on Highway 6 at Caledonia.

A constable asks the man what he wants.

The man replies, “Do your job or I’ll kill you and your family.”

Another constable asks ATV guy the question again.

What do you want?

“Tell your boys to get out of Belleville Mohawk territory. F… off. We’re going to carve you up tonight.”

To another officer, the man on the ATV says: “I can f…..g hurt you. Don’t kid yourself. I can f…..g hurt you.”

One OPP officer was so concerned for his safety during this confrontation, he considered drawing his gun.

This is the OPP version of what happened when officers and natives faced off on Highway 6 on the afternoon of April 26.

It was described in court documents filed by police for a search warrant.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The natives were blocking the road to protest the OPP’s arrest of a native protester near Napanee, related to a land claims dispute at a quarry. The road remained closed for four days.

Police are also investigating the blockade as an act of mischief.

The OPP are trying to identify that man on the ATV. Documents say they plan to charge him with two counts of assault with a weapon and four counts of threatening bodily harm.

Some of the officers have already done a photo lineup and chose the same man.

Still, the OPP executed a search warrant Tuesday and seized photographs taken by Hamilton Spectator photographers covering the blockade in Caledonia.

The OPP says it wants “forensic identification officers” to analyze the pictures “for the purposes of extracting single images of the persons involved in the incident for further identification to establish and afford evidence to the offenses.”

The Spectator is fighting the warrant.

“We’re not agents of the state,” says editor-in-chief David Estok. “It is not our job to collect information for the police.”

Forcing journalists to turn over unpublished photos or notes makes them vulnerable as they go about their jobs, Estok adds.

“It puts our staff in a potentially dangerous situation.”

The Spectator has turned over photographs in a sealed envelope. The paper will go before a judge to ask that it be returned, unopened.

The OPP refused to talk to The Spectator for this story.

However, the OPP information submitted to obtain the warrant provides an insight into a tense and dangerous confrontation between police and natives, the latest chapter in a saga going on in Caledonia for more than two years.

It started on April 26, Day 2 of the latest blockade. An officer was doing traffic control at the intersection of Highway 6 and Argyle Street South, where the road was closed.

Just before 1 p.m., he saw four ATVs on the closed portion of the highway. The drivers were waving at him. They then raced toward the officer, throwing up stones with their tires.

Soon, more ATVs arrived. The drivers were yelling and “driving erratically,” the documents say.

The officer counted 30 to 40 vehicles. Then called for backup.

The leader of the ATV pack, a heavy-set guy with “fat cheeks” who was wearing a camouflage jacket and riding a bright yellow machine, allegedly threatened to kill this officer and his family.

Within moments, at least 13 officers were at the scene. They parked their cruisers across the road, trying to keep the ATVs contained.

The officers stood on the highway. The OPP documents say at one point the officers were outnumbered “four to one.” But at other points, officers put the number of ATVs at anywhere from 20 to 40.

Officers repeatedly ordered the natives to leave the road. They did not obey. Instead, they sped past the police or circled them, coming dangerously close to hitting them. They did “wheelies” and revved their engines.

According to documents, at least two officers had to leap out of the way. Another’s hand was hit by an ATV.

The ATV leader — who told a cop, “We’re on a poker run” — at one point drove onto the open part of Argyle Street, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic, swearing at motorists and forcing drivers to pull over to avoid a crash.

“Several motorists had stopped and were taking photographs with their cell phones,” the documents say.

At least two women were driving ATVs, both with children riding behind them. One child is described as a 10-year-old girl.

The entire ATV incident lasted about 45 minutes. The OPP documents say many of the officers admitted they felt “intimidated,” “threatened” and feared they would get hurt.

One officer said he “considered using his firearm.”

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