For indigenous former soldier Davyn Calfchild, the two minutes of silence that were supposed to honor veterans on November 11 were anything but.
Instead of being permitted to enter the ceremony at Toronto’s Old City Hall carrying flags representing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Mohawk Warriors, Calfchild was stopped by police. They not only confiscated the flags but also held him and two others until the ceremony was over.
Calfchild arrived with two friends, holding the flags, having served for five years in the Former Yugoslavia, from 1992–1997. What ensued set social media on fire, as a YouTube video now posted of the arrest shows Calfchild surrounded by police officers. The video, recorded by one of the friends who accompanied Calfchild, appeared online by the end of the day and was soon being shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. Many branded the incident an outrage.
The video shows Calfchild explaining to the officer why he came to the ceremony. After Calfchild was apparently warned not to make a scene, an altercation arose between him and the officer. Within minutes, according to the video, the officer arrested Calfchild.
“This guy says our flags are not welcomed on Iroquoian land,” Calfchild told the crowd. As onlookers snapped photos, Calfchild was escorted away from the ceremony by two officers. Both flags dropped to the ground as Calfchild and his friends were handcuffed. During the arrest, Calfchild's friend repeatedly asked why they were being arrested. But shortly after that the video recording went black.
Like Calfchild, thousands of indigenous men and women served in Canada's armed forces. More than 7,000 indigenous veterans served in WWI and WWII, as well as the Korean War. It is unknown how many fought in the Yugoslav wars. Many have been awarded medals for their skill and contribution to the military over the decades. For instance, during WWI, 50 medals were awarded to indigenous veterans.
On Tuesday indigenous supporters were marching in solidarity to the police division to demand an apology and for the flags to be returned.
The arrest came just one day after the city of Toronto proclaimed the Year of Truth and Reconciliation to acknowledge and honour indigenous residential school survivors, in particular those residing in Toronto and the Greater Toronto area. According to the city's website, the proclamation adds to the city's ongoing work to enhance relationships with the Indigenous community in Toronto. About 70,000 indigenous people live in the city, according to estimates from aboriginal agencies.
Toronto police told Postmedia News that Calfchild and his companions were “known to police,” as Constable Wendy Drummond put it, adding that they were removed from the ceremony just before 11 a.m. for disturbing the peace.
“They were waving their flags and some of the crowd, the public, they were disrupted from their actions,” Drummond told Postmedia News. “In the video, you see the officer approach them to speak with them. The one person in particular was swearing, was very loud and drew the public’s attention from the service to the incident. So the officers removed them from the service.”
Thus Remembrance Day in Toronto did not bear tangible representation of the Mohawk or the Haudenosaunee, though other nations’ flags were flying aplenty. Calfchild said that his still had not been returned as of Tuesday November 12.
“Their flags are all there—but ours are not,” Calfchild told activist and blogger Dylan Powell after his release. “I go down there to show solidarity and let people know that we were in those wars and that our flags should be there. What crime did I commit showing up with that flag?”