This was Skinner’s first call as an IC, though he was an old warhorse who had been Acting Staff Sergeant in charge of one of the tru teams at Ipperwash. He knew as well as anyone that tactical teams across North America follow a stringent set of sops. When it came to deploying heavily armed and dangerous swat teams in life-and-death situations, these procedures maximize safety and minimize risk for all concerned. But in order to avoid offending local communities, they are often modified when teams are deployed to Ontario reserves.
As the hours wore on, Heinemann and his team became increasingly frustrated. They received reports from Skinner of people entering the bush lines behind the target residence. Typical of reserves, there was dead ground between houses, and the members of the team tasked with surrounding the house were forced to rotate continuously to cover their backs.
Bystanders were congregating at the roadblocks the opp had set up, which, contrary to sops, Skinner refused to move out of sight of the target residence. Heinemann made repeated requests that the roadblocks be moved, to no avail. A roadblock in full view of tru ground operations around a barricaded active shooter with hostages was not simply ill-advised, it was stupid. Worse still, Skinner was letting civilians through the roadblocks to go to the convenience store.
As time went by, the residents at the roadblocks, using cellphones and CBs, began advising Deleary about tru movements. At one point, Skinner ordered his alpha team to risk the dead ground and deliver a land line to the target residence to facilitate communication with Deleary. Heinemann watched as Deleary stuck his head out the back window and looked right at the alpha team. Deleary could easily have shot and killed any of the officers before being gunned down. A cop was killed at Grassy Narrows and another at Oka, but few even remembered their names. Heinemann wondered how another dead aboriginal malcontent would play at the Ipperwash inquiry.
Deleary finally agreed to surrender. Exhausted, Heinemann stood by the south wall of the living room as his team conducted a “stealth clear” of the wood-frame house. Stealth clears were sop, to gather evidence and ensure that suspects or shooters did not leave any surprises behind. Skinner wanted them to hurry it up. The natives at the roadblocks were becoming increasingly agitated, and Skinner wanted to get the hell out of there. Tired and frustrated, Heinemann eyed a makeshift shrine on the wall next to him. The iconic—and, to many, irritating—image of a camouflaged Mohawk warrior staring down a young Canadian soldier during the Oka crisis was taped to the wall beneath a flag that read “Warrior Society.” Beside them was a peace pipe, a couple of framed family photographs, a white eagle feather, and an Ojibwa dream catcher. Heinemann pulled out his ballpoint pen and stroked two faint X marks across the picture and the flag.
Team members may not understand the extent of their difficulties or recognize that their efforts may have aggravated the very problems they were attempting to solve. Management, for its part, may be unable to recognize the role it played in setting in motion this self-reinforcing spiral of failure. — “The Nut Island Effect”
It was Saturday morning, January 24, 2004, and Heinemann’s first full weekend off in months. He was just settling in for some family time when the phone rang. It was Sergeant John Kelsall proposing a secret team meeting to discuss the pen marks. With his square jaw, big nose, and golden buzz cut, Kelsall resembled a plastic action figure as much as a real cop. Nicknamed “Satan” by tru members, a riff on his devout Baptist beliefs, Kelsall had a Machiavellian side to him. The meeting would be secret because Kelsall wanted it held without the Barrie tru’s team leader, Staff Sergeant John Latouf.
In policing, chain of command is everything, and for swat units the team leader is god. Heinemann told Kelsall that they weren’t going to call the team in on this rare weekend off, and certainly not behind Latouf’s back. He called Latouf as soon as Kelsall hung up.