Those of us who hail from La Plaine (‘Jea Au-Vent’), the south eastern rural agricultural community which nestles between the foothills of Morne Gorverneur and the rugged Windward southern Atlantic coast, are a very proud and determined people. Many of us have left this bucolic outpost (where motorable roads arrived in 1965 and was placed on the national electric grid only in 1986) and its rolling hills and river valleys for greener pastures on distant shores. Others stayed home to help develop Dominica.
But wherever we are or how long we have been away, we all stand on the giant shoulders of Mr. Pierre Colarie along with the four dead bare-footed and shirtless peasants who were ‘cut down’ by Colonial forces on April 13th, 1893 during the La Plaine Tax riots. Colaire and his band of peasants defied and confronted Colonial Governor Hayes Smith and Royal Marines commander Edward Bayley on a hillside overlooking the Sari-Sari River in Case O’ Gowrie.
Mr. Colaire felt exorbitant and unfair taxes that were imposed by the Colonial Government were unfair, punitive and illegal. The Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in London commissioned an inquiry on the incident in La Plaine. In 1894 the inquiry’s findings resulted in the changing of the manner in which the Colonial government imposed and collected taxes in the colonies. It also resulted in the punishment of some of the officers involved. British Crown colony rule and governance were seriously affected and ridiculed.
We are also proud of the men who hailed from our community and have gone to be the Top cops. Mr. Lincoln Corbette has recently joined the illustrious men with his recent appointment to the post of Acting Commissioner of Police. In 1969, the late Damase Philbert (1916- 1987) became the first native police commissioner. In 2001 Mr. Matthias Lestrade (affectionately called ‘Da-Dai’ by his family and villagers) was appointed Commissioner of Police making him the second person from our village to lead the police force.
According to an article by attorney Gabriel Christian, in 1964, Colonial Police Chief Mulligan, described the state of the Police force as deplorable. Mulligan felt that the force was mistrusted by the people especially after the tragedy of the 1963 Carnival fire which killed Eddie Martin, Eric Shillingford, George James and wounded nineteen others. The then Police chief was accused of being corrupt and therefore Mr. Damase Philbert was selected as chief to bring the change needed to ensure positive interaction between the community and the law.
During Chief Philbert’s short time at the helm he oversaw the building of a new Police force, started the onsite mechanic shop to service only police vehicles, and a better relationship began blooming with between senior police officers and their subordinates. He also gave advice on the building of the new police headquarters on Bath Road, which was to replace the old police Station at Fort Young.
In 1971, after leading the force for seven years, the political atmosphere on the island became volatile and he eventually resigned after the House of Assembly Riot of December 16th that year. In the course of the riot, the Dominica Freedom Party Sympathizers such as Star S. Lestrade and trade unionists led by Louis “Zaboca” Benoit assaulted the House of Assembly in which the Dominica Labour Party of Premier Edward LeBlanc held a majority.
The intent of the rioters was to stop passage of the Roseau Town Council Dissolution Bill. The Roseau Town Council was then considered pro-Freedom Party and thus anti-government. The rioters surged past the police guards on duty and gained entry to the House of Assembly. It was felt by the government that Chief Philbert was negligent in not protecting the House of Assembly and that he had ignored the order to control the crowd by use of deadly force if necessary.
It was also felt that he was sympathetic to the opposition, to include being friendly to his fellow La Plaine boyhood friend Star S. Lestrade. Consequently, Chief Philbert was forced into retirement and was succeeded by Oliver Phillip of Marigot.
In 2009, Chief Matthias Lestrade retired after an illustrious career of 41 years with the Force after being selected as chief by the late PM Pierre Charles. Mr. Lestrade worked tirelessly at reforming a Force which was beginning to be highly politicized and divided. He was the commander of the SSU and saw action in Grenada during the 1983 U.S invasion.
According to Dominican Criminologist Dr. Peter K St. Jean, “Of all the Top cops I collaborated with to implement Community Policing on the island, Chief Lestrade was by far the most supportive.” Chief Lestrade was certainly a Cop’s cop while at the helm due to his high professional standards, impeccable public speaking and leadership qualities. He had a calm, steady and deliberate manner with he dealt with his critics and detractors inside and outside the Force.
Like many of us who hail from La Plaine and have made some strides, our allegiance is always with La Plainer in spite of the fact that today it is a much less close- knit community than when we were coming up. ‘Da-Dai’ is no exception to this fact and he never forgot La Plaine and his humble beginnings.