Hill Times September 23, 2020

The OPP is arresting journalists, and Throne-Speech writers need to understand why.

Journalists in Canada sometimes get flamed on social media, perhaps receive some anger in their pursuit of truth, but there is a tacit understanding that it’s part of the job.

In India, Hungary, and Russia, journalists have been arrested for their work. It’s happening in the United States too; according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, over 100 journalists have been arrested in the U.S. while covering Black Lives Matter.

And it is happening here, in your backyard, at 1492 Land Back Lane in southern Ontario.

Treaty promises from 1784 to protect that specific piece of land for Six Nations remain unfulfilled and in dispute. Haldimand County supported development on the land in 2003, and signed an agreement with the Six Nations elected chief and council in May 2019. As part of that agreement, the elected chief and council would publicly support the development, receive funding for a new school, receive an equal amount of land elsewhere, and dissuade any protests.

Six Nations also has a traditional form of government, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs did not sign on. During the summer people built a blockade to stop the development, and things started getting dangerous. Tires were burned, police brought out the rubber bullets or beanbag ammo. Superior Court Justice R. John Harper supported injunctions against the blockade in late August, without regard for historical treaties.

Why is there so much rage against development of this 107-acre piece of land?

A very similar story played out in 1990 at Oka, a key point in Canadian history. Then-prime minister Mulroney gave the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples the task to “redress literally centuries of injustice.” The commission called for large-scale change in colonial policy and law—and then nothing changed. How do we know?

Clayoquot, 1993; Ipperwash, 1995; Gustafsen Lake, 1995; Listuguj, 1998; Caledonia, 2006; Val D’or, 2007; Bouleau Lake, 2010; Idle No More, 2013; Rexton, 2013; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015; Muskrat Falls, 2016; Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, 2019; and Wet’suwet’en, 2020.

The 1492 blockade is complicated by the two governments of Six Nations. It’s complicated because any Indigenous assembly, blockade or round dance in the street is held on the centuries of unfilled promises and empty words of Canada. It’s complicated because Indigenous rights to assembly are not protected in this country.

Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford said nice words about the 1492 crisis back in late August. Since then, the Ontario Provincial Police has arrested people at the blockade for mischief, and allegedly followed some home. Indigenous journalist Karl Dockstader, recipient of the 2020 Canadian Journalism Federation-CBC Indigenous Journalism fellowship, was arrested.

We are on a slippery slope that other countries have followed, this trend of arresting journalists. The trend always ends badly for democracy. The OPP is not the arm of democracy to fix the 1492 crisis, nor was any police force the answer to any demand of an assembly of citizens. There is legitimate fear that reconciliation is truly dead, and Indigenous journalists and Indigenous peoples will always face risk at the hands of police, or becoming missing or murdered, or simply passed over by a country hell-bent on protecting the policy machine which consistently omits Indigenous peoples.

Throne-Speech writers and party insiders, listen up: the crisis of Indigenous rage at the machine you work in will not fade away. More Canadians support the positions of Indigenous neighbours than ever, so the rationale that ‘perhaps it won’t make the evening news’ is weak or worse. It is your responsibility to reflect Indigenous Canadians’ views and perspectives.