Political police: De Beers blockade order goes unheeded
Ten days ago, a judge in Timmins, Ont., finally ordered an end to the illegal blockade of the De Beers diamond mine west of the Attawapiskat Indian reserve.
A half-dozen Indians were blocking the ice road for half a month. That would be a problem for any mine or factory in Canada, but that ice road only operates for a few weeks each year, when it’s frozen solid enough to bring in heavy equipment and supplies.
The rest of the year, the billion-dollar mine is accessible only through a small airstrip.
This isn’t the first time that De Beers has faced an illegal siege.
In fact, it’s an annual event. Usually it’s a disgruntled employee or even a local resident who just wants the company’s attention to get a contract with them.
De Beers is patient; the mine isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the Indian reserve.
So every year the company bites its tongue and negotiates some friendly settlement with the shakedown artists blocking the road.
It’s not cheap — the last blockade cost the company $3.5 million dollars.
But then again, De Beers has spent $325 million on the Indian reserve over the past five years, and 100 of the 500 full-time employees at the mine itself are from Attawapiskat.
In addition to the direct employment and the contracts, De Beers also pays millions of dollars a year into a trust fund on the reserve to compensate trappers or hunters who claim the mine interferes with their traditional activities.
This entire deal — called the Impact Benefit Agreement — was put to a vote on the reserve, and received more than 85% approval.
The mine has been a good and gentle neighbour, and has received countless industry awards for environmentalism and aboriginal relations.
Which is precisely why it’s seen as such an easy mark for any disgruntled individual to shake it down for a few bucks.
But even a gentle giant can run out of patience. Which is why De Beers, after repeatedly meeting and talking with the trespassing blockaders, finally went to court to get an order kicking them off.
Justice Robert Riopelle was more than convinced. He ordered the blockaders out. But he added a very specific paragraph in his order, that applied to the police, requiring them to help the sheriff with all means necessary.
The judge specifically named the regional police superintendent at the Ontario Provincial Police, Jeff Dupuis, and Eric Cheechoo, the regional head officer of the Indian police force, called the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS). The court order “authorized and directed (them) to make available to the Sheriff such police officers, personnel and resources as may be requested by the Sheriff to prevent or stop breaches of this Order.”
The judge didn’t just order the trespassers off the road. He ordered the police to do it.
At the time of writing, a week has passed since the order was issued, and the police — including officers Dupuis and Cheechoo — have done nothing.
The blockade isn’t a heavily armed bunker, like Oka. It’s six unarmed guys sitting on a road. The police have visited them and talked with them. But haven’t moved them.
Welcome to the lawless banana republic of Ontario, presided over by political police, not real Canadian cops. Oh, the cops up there are not always this gentle.
Last month, when a TV reporter named Jennifer Tryon went to Attawpiskat to talk to local residents, NAPS detained her, put her in the back of a squad car, and moved her out.
Chief Theresa Spence personally ordered the raid and the police were only too happy to do that errand for her.
But when Judge Riopelle had a real hearing in a real court and issued a formal order to move lawbreakers, NAPS and the OPP go for doughnuts.
This is no longer De Beers that’s under seige.
This is the rule of law under attack.
The problem is no longer the trespassers. It’s the police, who would rather disobey a court order than commit the sin of political incorrectness.
This column was written for Sun News February 24 2012.