Link to Original Story

Builder sues Ontario over Caledonia attack

CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD
Globe and mail

September 17, 2008

CALEDONIA -- Sam Gualtieri, the home builder who was beaten unconscious by three teenagers during a native occupation last fall, is suing the Ontario government for the failure of the provincial police force to protect or assist him.

The multimillion-dollar suit was filed yesterday by Mr. Gualtieri's lawyer, John Findlay, in nearby Cayuga.

In the careful, slightly halting manner that is Mr. Gualtieri's "new normal" since the beating, the 53-year-old explained the lawsuit in two simple sentences: "I don't think the officers did their job. I have the right to be protected."

While the claims in the suit have not been tested in court, they conform with published reports of the attack last year, including the later arrests of two men and a young offender charged criminally, one with aggravated assault, in connection with the incident.

In particular, there seems little doubt the Ontario Provincial Police were present on the day of the incident, with some plainclothes officers allegedly on the subdivision site, at one earlier point within feet of where Mr. Gualtieri was later assaulted.

While he received a broken nose, blackened eyes, a fractured cheekbone and a broken collarbone in the beating, the most serious and enduring physical injury was to his head.

Mr. Gualtieri is now an outpatient at a clinic for acquired brain injuries. Where before the incident he worked long days in the construction business he loved, scrambling atop roofs and up and down ladders like a much younger man, he now walks with his head down, so he can check his footing, and is frequently dizzy. He hasn't been able to go back to work as a house framer, the business he has been in for more than three decades.

But the most poignant change is the profound loss of faith Mr. Gualtieri has experienced, a loss shared by other residents of Caledonia, a lovely small town near Hamilton.

Mr. Gualtieri's lawsuit is but the latest filed by disillusioned residents who claim that the OPP, on orders from Queen's Park, have all but abandoned them since natives first occupied the now-razed Douglas Creek Estates almost three years ago.

Indeed, the claims of state-approved failure to act by the OPP is similar to those made by another Caledonia resident named Dave Brown, whose suit claims that police stood by, one officer watching with them on the deck of their house, as protesters set fire to bales of hay and threatened to burn the place down. Mr. Brown has video of that incident.

On Sept. 13 last year, Mr. Gualtieri was working on a house in the new Stirling South subdivision, located just over a set of train tracks from the Six Nations reserve, he was building for his daughter and her then-fiancé.

He had a bricklayer working on the arched and columned entrance to the house, and stopped by that morning to check on him. He was stopped by the OPP at the top of the road and told he couldn't drive into the site because native protesters were there.

One man was climbing on the scaffolding at the front of the house, and as Mr. Gualtieri walked in, he said, an officer near him was on a walkie-talkie, saying, "The shit's going to hit the fan."

Mr. Gualtieri first yelled at the protester to get down, saying he didn't want to see anyone hurt on his daughter's house. "They said, 'It's our land, not your daughter's,' " Mr. Gualtieri said. "I just got mad. I started to climb up the scaffolding as they were trying to plant flags on the roof."

He grabbed the native

flags and threw them into the mud "and they went nuts," Mr. Gualtieri said, so he and the bricklayer, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, locked the house and left.

About 4 p.m., Mr. Gualtieri he returned from other job sites with two nephews and another labourer; he and his wife, Sandy, had a dinner date, and he wasn't planning to stay long at the house. They were about to leave the site when one of his nephews said, "There's a bunch of natives walking in the house." Mr. Gualtieri looked up and could see them on the catwalk inside.

His nephew suggested he go in the back way, but Mr. Gualtieri said, "No, it's my house, why should I sneak in my house?" He went in - it was obvious from damage to the door that it had been forced open - and yelled up the stairs, "This is my house, get the hell out!" Someone yelled, "It's our house." It's the last thing he remembers.

He was found bleeding and unconscious on the floor by the stairs. His nephews and the other worker filled in the blanks: They were allegedly jumped out front, they said, and when one of them got away and went in the back door, he saw one of the young men swinging a section of four-inch solid oak handrail at his uncle's head and begged him to stop.

The assailants, Mr. Gualtieri was told, didn't even run from the house, so emboldened were they - from, the family said, years of being allowed to break the law with impunity, often within view of the OPP.

As his brother Joe told The Globe yesterday, "We are a lost people here."

Of his brother, Joe Gualtieri said, "His whole life has been defined by what he did. He loved this, he's been doing it since he was 16; he left school at Grade 10 to do it." Not so long ago, he said, Sam Gualtieri was at a job site, got up on a ladder, got dizzy and had to get down. He has difficulty reading blueprints, despite his new glasses.

The family and Mr. Findlay took Globe photographer Pete Power and me on a little tour yesterday, out to the subdivision and by some of Caledonia's new landmarks - the stolen hydro towers that

still sit at the entrance to the Six Nations reserve; the two new, and clearly illegal, smoke shacks natives recently have set up on county property; the heavy security at the hydro station 24-7 and the sign where Douglas Creek Estates used to be.

"The law of the land prevails; the tree of peace still stands," it reads, a splendid example of what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, called doublespeak.