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Rex Murphy Point of View

November 19, 2009

Reading the saga of David Brown and his wife Dana Chatwell – a family caught in the turmoil and lawlessness of the now-famous Caledonia protest and blockade over native land claims – I have really only one question.

Why, after going through what they accurately describe as 496 days in hell, caught between the rock of indifference of all Ontario’s political authorities, and the extremely hard place of the barricades, burnings and harassment from the native occupiers, do these two have to go to court to receive some redress?

The Browns are in court seeking seven million dollars as compensation for their extraordinary plight.

It is obvious, because of the cultural roots of such things, that hypersensitivity and hypercaution always come into play when political authorities deal with native protest. It was in full swing during the so-called Caledonia occupation.    Dalton McGuinty and his government treated this at arms length and with kid gloves from day one: the fear of being caught in some perceived backlash on the always explosive question of "native rights", and the memory of past protests that turned tragic, meant that this protest was treated differently.

For the Brown family, this meant they were caught in some peculiar and weird no-man’s land:  where they had to get "passports" from native protestors to enter their own house; where their calls for help and police protection did not get the full response that any citizen in distress, in any other situation, would get.

They were left to themselves in anxiety, fear and terrible stress, caught in some horrible limbo between the aggressions of the protestors and the "policy" of the authorities, of keeping matters at the lowest possible boil if at all possible. 

For the period of their limbo the Browns were incidental to the "larger" issues, cut off from their most basic rights as citizens, their right to safety; their right to come and go from their own home; their right to the protection of the state. States exist – they exist – to protect their citizens.

And now that it’s ‘over’, the politicians and the police authorities, instead of saying "OK, we had a difficult situation; the way we handled it wasn’t by any means perfect. But we do understand you were victims - let’s say you were casualties of these "larger" concerns.  But we will, at least now, acknowledge it, and without further ado, as part-remedy, we will at least offer you, the Browns, substantial compensation, and an apology for abandoning you. You won’t have to go to court to make us do this."

But, no.  We have the Ontario lawyer in one golden statement arguing that the Browns "provoked" the protestors.  In the immortal words of every conversation in every Tim Horton’s in this country – for god’s sake, give us a break.

The abandonment of the Browns during this episode was shameful to the last degree.   And so instead of "manning up", the Ontario government is now fighting the Browns in court – in effect, forcing them through another torment to "prove" they were abandoned. 

Ontario should not be extending its shame by making them fight for  compensation.  The Browns should not have to go to court to force a government simply to do the right thing…at long and bitter last.   For the National, I’m Rex Murphy.