With additional reporting by Nicky Young.
Within minutes of arriving at Toronto’s public Remembrance Day ceremony, Davyn Calfchild, an Indigenous veteran who served for five years as a Canadian peacekeeper in former Yugoslavia, was arrested without charge. He had refused to put away the Iroquois Confederacy flag that he brought to the ceremony to represent First Nations veterans, while his friend Gary Wassaykeesic flew a Unity, or Mohawk Warrior, flag. The incident was documented in a video which has now gone viral, and was filmed by Miguel Avila-Velarde, a prominent anti-police brutality activist in Toronto who carried a third of Davyn’s flags—that of the two row wampum. The three were arrested and their flags were confiscated, but no laws were broken and no one was charged. “They weren't even read their rights. They weren't asked for ID… They were just taken away and detained until the ceremony was over,” Davyn’s wife Cathy explained.
The video begins in the middle of a verbal confrontation between Calfchild and Toronto Constable Stephen Mugford, where Calfchild grows increasingly frustrated, telling the officer: “I served this country for five years, I have every right to stand here. Fuck off…Don’t tell me what to do, this is supposed to be for us, the veterans.” Calfchild explained that immediately upon arrival, “the cops were all over us, stating that we had to leave the parade because the flags were causing a disturbance… nobody could have had time to complain because we had literally just arrived to the ceremony.” As the video shows, when Calfchild finally raises his voice, addressing onlookers and saying, “this guy says that our flags aren’t welcome here on Iroquois land,” arrests were made. He and his friends were forcibly removed, while police drag the Iroquois Confederacy flag across the pavement, eventually stepping on it as Calfchild is handcuffed and loaded into a police vehicle.
When we spoke to the police, they confirmed this version of events—no crime was committed, Calfchild and his allies weren’t protesting the ceremony, and officers perceived “flag-waving” and “belligerent” language to be arrestable offenses. Ignoring the fact that Calfchild himself had served in the military, Constable Wendy Drummond explained that: “It’s a ceremony based on tradition and patriotism… it’s a ceremony that’s celebrated to commemorate those who served, those who died, those who are serving, those who continue to participate in peacekeeping missions, and it is on somewhat of a solemn occasion that these ceremonies are held. If anybody was causing a disturbance to that ceremony they would have been spoken to, we would have investigated.” She insisted that the arrests “had nothing to do with the type of flag or who these people were.”
The solemnity of the event, of course, was not lost on Calfchild. “I feel an obligation to stand in solidarity with other soldiers and represent natives in the military with our native flags. It makes people happy, it shows that we are not forgotten and that we as native people did make a contribution to all these battles,” he explained. “We weren't even there for one minute when the police approached us. My swearing was a result of how upset I was to be immediately told that basically my representation was unwelcome.”
As a result of the arrests, an impromptu solidarity rally was arranged to support Davyn and Cathy as they went to the headquarters of the Toronto Police Service’s 52 Division to retrieve their flags. An indigenous Elder, speaking at the event, clarified the significance of the flags and why they should rightfully fly on Remembrance Day. "After WWI, on Queen Victoria day, the British Government sent a proclamation to the confederacy thanking the Iroquois people for their alliance in the war against Germany; not for our citizenship, not for our service, but for our alliance. We were one of the Allies of that war. That flag had a right to be there, so we don't want that flag to desecrated. We're talking about respect and basic dignity,” the Elder explained.
Video of the arrest.
Cathy says that the erasure of an Indigenous voice from Toronto’s Remembrance Day ceremony is a recent and troubling phenomenon. “For the last three Novembers there hasn't been any native representation at the ceremony. For years the city used to ask an Elder to come down with a big drum and join in the ceremony, and now they aren't doing that any more. Toronto is a big metropolitan city and to no longer acknowledge native veterans is wrong. All we are doing is trying to stand with the other flags,” she explained.
Cathy also recalled that this isn’t the first ceremony where native flags have prompted an overbearing response: “At last year’s ceremony, city hall security threatened to forcibly remove me for holding a flag, even after showing them I was pregnant. People came to my aid and told the security what he was doing was wrong, and that was the only reason I was able stay, but I wasn't allowed to raise my flag. This year the police were actually waiting for us, and that’s why they were taken away only a moment after arriving.”
It’s possible that police pre-emptively targeted the three men, who were arrested almost immediately upon arrival. At protests in the Toronto area, Davyn and Gary’s flags are ubiquitous, as is Miguel’s camera. “The flags that I brought down today have been used in various actions,” Davyn explained. “All three of these flags were at the Aamjiwnaang blockade [in Chemical Valley], the GE rail blockade, they've been to Ottawa to the Remembrance Day parade, they were at the Sammy Yatim protest, and at the metro convention centre for the Line 9 hearings.”
It’s because of this activism, and particularly Calfchild’s participation in the anti-police brutality protests that followed the infamous shooting and posthumous tazering of eighteen year-old Sammy Yatim, that police have allegedly targeted Davyn in the past. In late August, Davyn claims, Officer Haroon of 14 division pulled him over on his bicycle, beat him, threatened his family, and confiscated his First Nations status card. A video testimony, recorded after the incident, shows the physical wounds that Calfchild sustained. “[Officer Haroon] remembered me from that Sammy protest… he threw me on the ground, put me in handcuffs… he started telling me that I was his bitch, a piece of shit, he kept telling me to look on the ground… he kept telling me that he was going to shoot me and my family and that I’m lucky that this is a public street, otherwise the result would be different,” Calfchild says in the video. Calfchild later confronted Officer Haroon outside of the hearings for Enbridge Line 9.
And while the hypocrisy of justice was on display during the ceremony—with Toronto’s as-of-yet unarrestable, law-breaking Mayor speaking from a podium within eyeshot of the three arrests—this double standard isn’t why Calfchild feels burned. He’s more bothered by the complicity he witnessed, among some in the audience, as they saw a veteran being hauled away and did nothing to intervene. “I saw a lot of people saying ‘Why are they doing that? That’s wrong! That’s wrong!’ but I didn't see anybody coming and doing anything to make sure that we weren't being whisked away by the police. That still really bothers me.”
Nonetheless, with the arrests documented in a viral video and the Canadian public exposed once again to the shameful behaviour of Toronto Police, Calfchild is confident that his flags will fly at next year’s ceremony. “A lot of people are very upset all over the country,” he said. “I’m not going to let the police dictate to me where I am allowed to fly my flag. I'm still going to go down to the ceremony every year with my flag… I think that next year a lot more people are going to come, and a lot of them will be bringing flags. So the police won't be able to whisk us all away.”