Gary McHale asked me to join Haldimand resident Donna Pitcher on the bridge in Dunnville to cover her one-woman protest/plea that the OPP keep the bridge open should native protesters decide to block it as part of their National Day of Action. My job was to gather photo/video evidence of any native actions, and to gather evidence to be used against the OPP should they refuse to enforce the law, or decide to violate the rights of non-native protesters.
The natives stayed away, but the same can’t be said for the ham-fisted OPP. If it weren’t for them and their silly police state tactics the only story I’d be telling today would be about the awesome people of Dunnville(!) and the sunburn I got while admiring the scenery and wildlife from the middle of their bridge over the Grand River. Fortunately for us, the OPP – once again – just couldn’t resist harassing non-native, law-abiding, peaceful people as if we were the ones threatening Canada’s infrastructure. More on this a little later…
Donna gets mad
Donna’s one woman protest actually began on Wednesday. She lives close to Dunnville and got really angry when she heard rumours that natives planned to block the bridges in Haldimand. She made up a sign on fluorescent green bristol board, called the OPP to let them know what she was going to be doing, and sat on the bridge for a few hours, returning on Thursday. She was there again on Friday morning when I arrived shortly after 8:00 AM on the National Day of Action.
A beautiful place for a protest
The weather was beautiful with a pleasant breeze that kept us cool. The view up and down the Grand River was spectacular. The fish jumped while fishermen(women) fished. The Great Blue Herons entertained us while we soaked up the sun positioned between two Canadian flags placed on the bridge by persons unknown during the night. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect. If one had to cover a native blockade, you couldn’t have picked a better location!
Dunnville welcomes Donna with open arms
Donna hadn’t thought to bring a chair so she sat on the sidewalk holding her sign. Shortly after I arrived a car stopped in front of her, and a woman handed Donna a metal folding chair for her to sit on. Other people stopped by throughout the day with food and water for us.
One man walked up from town and handed me a case of water, saying simply, “Thank you for doing this.” Another walked up with two, ice cold bottles of water for us. He came back later in the day to join us, waving a large Canadian flag he had just purchased.
Other cars stopped quickly to hand over water and treats. A lady brought a box of chocolate eclairs from a nearby bakery. One man passed us a paper bag out his car window. Inside was a plastic bag filled with ice, water, pop, chocolate bars, fruit and ice cream. On the side of the bag he had written, “Thank you for holding the fort.” I kept the bag so I could frame it.
In addition to the quiet thoughtfulness of those who brought gifts of food and drink, the people of Dunnville showed their appreciation to Donna as they drove by honking and waving. It was non-stop from the time I arrived until the time I left with Donna, and it was awesome! The Dunnville bridge is one very busy bridge with a lot of truck traffic and I would not be exaggerating to say that 7 out of 10 vehicles that passed us showed their support with a friendly honk or wave as they drove past. It was most gratifying, to say the least. Video to follow!
During the day, various people came to join us on the bridge for a few minutes, some for hours at a time. Some came to talk, some to hold Donna’s sign so she could take a bathroom break. Some knew Donna, but most were new ‘friends’ coming to lend support or simply to ask questions.
Dunnville – proud, confident and determined
The longer I was in Dunnville, the more respect I had for the people there. ‘Proud,’ ‘confident,’ ‘determined’ are all words that came to mind. I lost track of the number of people who told me that there was no way they would allow natives to blockade their bridge irrespective of what the OPP might or might not do. Every one of them talked about how heavy construction equipment had been positioned on both sides of the river…just in case it might be needed.
We noticed several people in a nearby parking lot who sat in their vehicles all day. We wondered if they were undercover police, but a resident set us straight: they were locals watching the bridge just in case it was necessary to call in the equipment to clear the bridge of an illegal blockade.
Dunnville – a history of respect as equal partners with Six Nations
Now, you might be forgiven for wondering if Dunnville was just a redneck hotbed of anti-native sentiment, but you’d wrong. One of the visitors to Donna’s protest was a former councillor by the name of Mike Ramsey who took the time to talk to me – with great pride – about how Dunnville had always enjoyed good relations with Six Nations. He shared the story of how residents – without police help – used heavy equipment to forcefully clear a native blockade of the bridge many years ago. Afterwards, the town’s leaders invited the natives to sit with them and discuss their legitimate concerns. They then worked together together to resolve their differences quickly and practically without further aggression on either side.
Mike explained that Six Nations had some legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed, and I was fascinated by his suggestions at solving the problems in Haldimand. I promised that if he wrote them up, we’d get them posted on VoiceofCanada and CaledoniaWakeUpCall.com.
Before he left, Mike told me that he’d been speaking with one of the more militant natives from Six Nations and asked him why, since Dunville had always respected native concerns and tried to work with them, they would want to cause trouble there. He says the native replied, “That’s a good question.”
Media comes to Dunnville
During the day Donna and I were interviewed by Bill Jackson of The Regional News; Karen Best (photo below) of The Dunnville Chronicle; Paul Legau of the Hamilton Spectator and Al Sweeney of CHTV. Thanks to all for covering the story!
OPP harass peaceful, non-native citizens – again
The OPP drove by once and stopped to ask when Donna was leaving the bridge. Later, a couple of officers on foot came by for a couple of minutes and then left. At 1:30 they returned just as a small group of about 7 people were standing with us. They informed us that they had been “ordered to request that we leave the bridge.” Since we weren’t doing anything illegal Donna politely refused and told them we’d be leaving at 5:00 PM. One of the officers then asked everyone to give their name, address, telephone number and birthday. When he got to me, he said, “Mr. McHale?” I guess they figured that if someone was protesting, it could only be Gary McHale. I said that I wasn’t McHale. I then asked him if I was under arrest. When he said, “No”, I told him that I didn’t have to give my name, but I would anyway and pulled out a business card. I told him he didn’t need my birthdate.
I asked the officer if he thought that the OPP in Deseronto had been collecting names and birthdates of the masked, armed native criminals who had shut down two major highways. He apologized, but said he was only following orders.
Hamilton Spectator reporter, Paul Legau, was there to see it all. When he identified himself as a Spec reporter, the officer decided he didn’t need his information. Donna wasn’t impressed, so she asked why – after all, he was standing on the bridge, too. “Because he’s not a protester,” was the reply.
Before they left I asked the second officer whether HE thought the OPP had collected the birthdates of the criminals in Deseronto. “I’m not there,” he said. “I’m here.”
Yes, indeed, the OPP were in Dunnville. Gathering information about, and trying to intimidate – oh, so politely! – a small group of law-abiding, peaceful non-native people who happened to stop to talk to a woman doing nothing more than standing on a bridge holding a cardboard sign.
Two Tier Justice is still alive and well.
Not only was the Hamilton Spectator present for the whole thing, CHTV News arrived not long after the OPP had finished harassing us, so we got to tell our story on TV. They asked me to send the video and photos I took of the officers. Naturally, I was pleased to oblige.
WE are in control
I was watching the movie Ghandi late Thursday night before leaving for Dunnville. At one point in the movie Ghandi is asked what happens if the British colonial government doesn’t react to his campaign of civil disobedience to which he replies, “The job of the civil resister is to provoke a reaction. We are in control.”
Gary McHale has been saying the same thing to me for many months now: We can’t control what will happen tomorrow, but we can control how we react to it. When you know that what you’re doing is right, you are in control, not those who are oppressing you. We control the OPP and the government because we can count on them to do the wrong thing as they look only at their own short-term interests in preserving their grasp on power and concealing their illegitimate activities. The more lies they tell, the more investigations they suppress, the more rights they violate, the more we are in control.
One lone woman on a bridge in Dunnville showed just how firmly in control we are.
Thanks to the OPP
Thanks ever so much for your silly, un-necessary ‘reaction’ to a peaceful, innocuous protest. If it wasn’t for you, I’d have had nothing to write about, nothing to tell the media about. Keep up the good work!
P.S. Did you ever get birthdates and contact info from Shawn Brant and his gang of terrorists? I’m guessing not; after all they had weapons and were prepared to use them. Better that you stick to harassing law-abiding non-natives who won’t shoot back and have nothing to hide. God, how can you even put on that uniform! I’d rather be a bum under a bridge than an OPP officer enforcing Two Tier Justice in Haldimand.
Thank you Donna Pitcher
Donna Pitcher sat, in total, approximately 20+ hours on the Dunnville bridge. She was interviewed by 4 different media outlets. She caused the OPP to shoot themselves in the foot by exposing yet another example of Two Tier Justice. She helped connect VoiceofCanada to people with expertise in working with native peoples in settling land claims. She helped put Dunnville on the map if only for a short time, and she revealed the great qualities of its people for the rest of us to see.
Not bad for one woman who knew that it doesn’t take many people to make a difference.
I live in London today, but I was raised in Grimsby and lived for many years in Hamilton. I have visited Dunnville and Byng Park a few times, but it didn’t make a huge impression on me – until yesterday. I saw a proud, but humble town with friendly, welcoming, generous people prepared to live in a beautiful part of Canada as respected equals with their native neighbours, but not at the price of tolerating the acts of criminals that have terrorized towns like Ipperwash and Caledonia. I wish Dalton McGuinty, Julian Fantino and all of Haldimand Council had been on your bridge yesterday. They would have learned a lot from you.
Mark Vandermaas, Editor
- Donna Pitcher blog: Haldimand’s Unheard Voice
- Haldimand’s Unheard Voice, June 27/07: Haldimand “Bridge Sit In”
- Haldimand’s Unheard Voice, July 01/07: My Bridge Sit In
- CHTV News, June 29/07: DCE protesters with shotguns stopped from barricading Caledonia overpass, “retreat to DCE” [dial-up]
- CaledoniaWakeUpCall.com feature: Day of Action, June 29/07