In April 2008, in response to a land occupation and road blockades by members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Nation, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) deployed more than 200 heavily armed officers, including members of the Tactics and Rescue Unit (TRU). The TRU is tasked with responding to “the most serious threats to peace and order”, such as“hostage takings, barricaded persons, sniper incidents, and the search for armed or dangerous fugitives.”.
The OPP has never provided a credible explanation for this massive – and dangerous – overreaction to a small group of unarmed land defenders.
Even though the police action deteriorated to the point that officers pointed high-powered rifles at activists and bystanders, there has been neither an internal review nor a formal, independent review of this incident.
“From where we were, I could see about two officers for each cruiser – about 25-30 officers. Every officer was holding a rifle, and every rifle was pointed at my truck.” This is how Jim Kunkel describes the experience of having dozens of high-powered rifles aimed at him when he and his wife, Rhonda, raced to police barricade to seek information about their son who was among the land rights defenders.
As a result of years of persistent applications and appeals through the province’s freedom of information system, Amnesty International volunteers have been able to amass substantial evidence of police wrongdoing during this incident. This includes video evidence confirming that five men arrested during the protest were held in locked cells for hours in plastic restraints, contrary to police standards.
After Amnesty obtained this video evidence, we urged the OPP to conduct an internal review. The review was so cursory, however, that the OPP didn’t even attempt to talk to any of the Mohawk men before declaring that it had no concerns over how they had been treated.
In December, the UN Committee Against Torture called for a thorough and impartial investigation of OPP actions during this incident.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
We have posted a new online action calling on the Ontario government to act on the UN Committee’s recommendation. In addition to signing the action, we are encouraging Amnesty activists in Ontario to write and call the Premier’s office. The online action can be used as the basis of your personal message.
Premier Doug Ford
Telephone: (416) 325-1941
The Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network recently produced a two-part documentary about the April 2008 incident and the efforts of Amnesty volunteers to hold the OPP accountable. The entire documentary can be viewed online at:
Amnesty groups please consider screening the documentary at your next meeting. In addition to shining a light on this particular incident, the documentary is a powerful opportunity to reflect on the broader issues of police accountability and our expectations of police in the context of conflicts over Indigenous land rights.