Commissioner claims OPP 'falsely blamed' for Caledonia, Ont. escalation, releases video of confrontation

The OPP Commissioner says police have been “falsely blamed” by protesters for the escalation surrounding an Indigenous land dispute at the McKenzie Meadows development site in Caledonia.

Commissioner Thomas Carrique made the comments on Twitter Sunday evening. He also shared a one-minute video that shows two unidentified people approaching an OPP cruiser, hitting the car with what appears to be a lacrosse stick, and throwing an object at the windshield, cracking the glass.

The OPP confirmed the video was recorded on Oct. 22.

“Extremely proud of my officers for their professional and measured response to keep the peace & preserve life while under attack”, Carrique wrote in the tweet.

The OPP confirmed to CTV News late Sunday evening that the person shown with a lacrosse stick in the video “has been identified and will be facing charges”, and that police are actively working to identify the other person.

Protestors falsely blamed #OPP for escalation in #Caledonia. Extremely proud of my officers for their professional and measured response to keep the peace & preserve life while under attack. Arrests continue as members take responsible and sustained enforcement approach @WR_OPP pic.twitter.com/nhXTSRQKHs

— Thomas Carrique (@OPPCommissioner) October 25, 2020

In another statement, the OPP said protesters’ comments about the OPP response were “inaccurate and inflammatory”.

The 'Land Back Lane' group, which has been speaking publicly about its opposition to the McKenzie Meadows development, says the site is on unceded Indigenous land. They have also accused the OPP of escalating the situation.

The OPP said as officers were attempting to arrest people who were damaging police vehicles, they were “targeted by additional protesters who were hurling rocks, some using what appeared to be lacrosse sticks." They added that one person threw pieces of lumber at police, who responded with a round of rubber bullets. The OPP also said a conducted energy weapon was used to control an “aggressive subject”, but it was “ineffective due to heavy clothing.”

The OPP said they have investigated “dozens of offences” in connection to actions in the area of McKenzie Meadows. A total of 33 arrests have already been made, and their investigations are ongoing.

“We will continue to engage in constructive dialogue with demonstrators and members of Caledonia in efforts to keep the peace and preserve life. We ask everyone affected by these demonstrations to also have patience as the process progresses,” Commissioner Carrique wrote in a statement Sunday evening.

Premier Doug Ford weighed in on the incident on Monday afternoon.

"It's a clear message," Ford said. "Don't be attacking our police officers, they are there to help you, to support you, to keep law and order. Just imagine if we didn't have the police, there would be anarchy."

'Land Back Lane' response

Demonstrators with the 'Land Back Lane' group, who argue that the McKenzie Meadows development is on unceded Indigenous land, told CTV News on Sunday evening that demonstrators had asked police to put their guns down prior to the incident shown in the OPP video.

In a another video, posted to the @1492LandBackLane Twitter account, people can be heard yelling: “Put your gun down!”

Spokesperson Skyler Williams told CTV News that the scenes depict what “hundreds of years of anger look like.”

He also said that he hopes both sides will be held accountable.

“The people who shot rubber bullets without taking any regard for who was standing in the background... absolutely, there should be someone held to account for that,” Williams said. “On our side as well, I’m sure that there will be legal consequences for people who broke the windows... there will be people held to account on our side at least."

Williams also said the video fails to provide context about what led to the incident.

"After rubber bullets were shot and after a guy was Tasered is where that video starts off," he said.

Tensions at, and near, the McKenzie Meadows site have heightened since a judge’s ruling on Thursday ordering demonstrators to permanently leave the development site.

A blockade by demonstrators on Argyle Street South, which includes a bus and an overturned car, was still in place late Sunday evening.

Earlier on Sunday, some Ontario labour group leaders visited the site to express solidarity with the demonstration.

“Honoured to listen to the Land Defenders today at #1492LandBackLane,” tweeted Janice Folk-Dawson, the Excecutive Director of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “Their version of history is the truth – a truth many of us settlers have never heard. Labour must commit to supporting – we understand misuse of injunctions & broken contracts.”

On Monday, Williams also apologized to people living in Haldimand County for "letting it get to as far as it has."

"I express no ill will towards anybody in Caledonia or Haldimond County," he said. "These are our neighbours."

Despite the ongoing tension, Williams said he's still hoping for a peaceful resolution.

"Ninety days ago we were ready," he said. "Stop dragging your feet, it's time now."