Citizen militia will protect Caledonia landowners: organizers

As many as 50 people gathered in a small southwestern Ontario community late Tuesday to discuss setting up a citizens' militia to deal with illegal occupations in the Caledonia claims dispute.

Ontario premier dismisses militia plans as 'unhelpful'

Non-aboriginal activists met near Caledonia Tuesday to discuss forming a citizen militia to protect property owners in what has become a long-running land claims dispute with Six Nations protesters. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press))
As many as 50 people gathered in a small southwestern Ontario community late Tuesday to discuss setting up a citizens' militia to deal with illegal occupations in the Caledonia claims dispute.

Organizers of the group, which calls itself the Caledonia Peacekeepers, are upset with how the Ontario Provincial Police have handled the three-year-old occupation of a Caledonia housing development by First Nations protesters, who say the land belongs to them.

Doug Fleming, who came up with the idea of forming the unarmed militia, says they'll use force and citizen arrests to deal with illegal occupations in Caledonia, southwest of Hamilton.

"This group is not for hotheads. This group is not for someone who will lose their temper and want to hurt someone," said Fleming, who held the meeting in the nearby village of Cayuga.

About 70 people arrived on buses from Toronto and Kitchener to protest the meeting, shouting, "Go away, KKK," said a report in the Hamilton Spectator.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday it is "not helpful at all" to have a citizen militia, saying the OPP is responsible for upholding the law in Caledonia.  

Six Nations members occupied the contested 40-hectare tract of land in February 2006. Talks between Ottawa and First Nations officials to resolve the land claim dispute are ongoing.

Fleming said the militia is being formed to make sure the law is enforced and to protect local property owners from trespassers.

He says he came up with the idea earlier this month when a Mohawk man occupied a corner of a farm field on the edge of town and set up a shack to sell duty-free cigarettes to protest the state of land claim talks.

Fleming, who became upset when the OPP said they wouldn't move in to evict the protestor, says he hopes the threat of citizens making citizens' arrests will embarrass the police force into action.

"We will intervene in situations like that, if the OPP knows that we're serious, I believe they will do it rather than risk the consequences of having civilians do it. But we have to be prepared to do it," he said.

However, the farmer who owns the land where the smoke shack has been set up, says the federal government, not local vigilantes, should solve the Caledonia land claim.

"Outsiders, they stick their nose into it … because this is my problem," said Ernie Palmer. "Mr. Fleming, you are a publicity seeker and you should have stayed out of it as I told you."

OPP Deputy Commissioner Chris Lewis says Palmer hasn't asked for police assistance.

"He has not asked us to do anything there, in fact, is not concerned about it is my understanding," said Lewis. "For anyone to start a group which is ultimately going to try and take matters into their own hands is ridiculous and a real dangerous precedent to set."

Earlier this month, Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Brad Duguid called the plan a "dumb idea."

The aboriginals were given the land in 1784 by the British Crown, but Ottawa says the vast majority was surrendered or sold by 1850. The Six Nations claim the land was never surrendered.