Not prosecuting Idle No More wrong move: OPP boss

By Joe Warmington, Toronto Sun

OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis. (STAN BEHAL/Toronto Sun files)

OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis. (STAN BEHAL/Toronto Sun files)



In a rare move for a police chief, OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis says he “disagrees” with a decision by the Napanee Crown attorney to not bring to trial charges against several First Nations protesters in January’s Idle No More rail blockade near Marysville.

“A thorough investigation was conducted by our criminal investigators,” Lewis acknowledged this week. “They felt strongly that grounds to charge a number of the key protesters criminally existed, particularly given that this blockade was more than a brief inconvenience to a few people.”

But, sources told the Toronto Sun, even with a police decision to lay charges the Crown rejected the notion.

Lewis, when contacted, confirmed “the case was discussed with the local Crown attorney, and it was the decision of the Crown that it was not in the public interest to proceed with charges against those responsible.”

Napanee Crown attorney Edward Bradley has refused comment. A receptionist would not put a call through to him Monday — referring calls to the Ministry of the Attorney General in Toronto.

On Wednesday, AG spokesman Jason Gennaro said “although the police may lay charges when they have reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed, the Crown proceeds with charges only where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.”

In this case, "It was determined that, taking into account all of the circumstances, there was no longer a public interest in pursuing a prosecution,” Gennaro said.

No longer a public interest?

What on earth does that even mean?

Is it because the protesters facing possible charges are from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory or from visiting First Nation communities and have some sort of special status?

Meanwhile, there seems to be in the public interest to prosecute the 13 Swamp Line 9 Enbridge oil pipeline protesters who are before the courts charged with trespassing near Hamilton in June.

Are there two sets of rules in a province where Premier Kathleen Wynne is a former aboriginal affairs minister who opened her 2013 campaign speech at the Liberal leadership convention at Maple Leaf Gardens by saying, “I’d like to acknowledge that we are holding this grand gathering on the territories of the Mississauga of the New Credit.”

Or Carlton St., as most Torontonians know it.

Wynne’s words, and now this apparent double standard, have created more curiosity since there are still so many hard feelings left over from the unchecked lawlessness in Caledonia.

Who can blame Lewis for being frustrated when he took considerable heat for the OPP not laying charges after the Jan. 5 blockade.

“Such an approach by the OPP was most disappointing,” Justice David Brown wrote of the decision to not serve an injunction toward midnight but instead wait until daybreak and continue negotiations.

The commissioner told the Sun on Jan. 10 that media reports he or Sarnia Police Chief Phil Nelson disrespected the court order from CN Rail was pure fiction.

“Some media outlets, and some of the more ravenous reporters, are saying we thumbed our noses at the courts,” Lewis said. “That is not true. In fact, it’s ridiculous.”

He said police were following the “framework for responding to First Nations protests” with a view to avoid another senseless death like what happened with Dudley George at Ipperwash.

It worked. No one was hurt.

At the time, he assured everyone, including in an internal video to his own troops, “These events are still under investigation and charges will be laid where sufficient grounds exist and it will then be up to the courts to decide guilt or innocence and to mete out appropriate penalties.”

He was good to his word and backed up his officers.

“This was a significant event, as cross-country passenger and freight rail traffic was totally disrupted for several hours, and cost CN Rail a significant amount of money. The protesters were warned by our officers that they would be charged criminally at the time,” said Lewis.

“CN sought a court injunction to have the protesters removed, which was granted, and our members negotiated an end to the protest within a few hours, without us having to make arrests at the scene. However we did identify the protesters and committed to the public that we would lay charges as deemed appropriate.”

They now want to prosecute. The Crown has decided not to.

“I fully respect the judicial process and the role of the Crown attorney therein,” said Lewis. “But I fundamentally disagree with the decision in this particular case.”

Certainly when people allegedly blocking this country’s rail lines are given an apparent free pass from prosecution, it’s always in the public’s interest to ask why that is.


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