The Ipperwash Inquiry
Last Updated May 31, 2007
Its mandate was simple: Find out what really happened in the hours and days leading up to the shooting death of native protester Dudley George - and come up with recommendations to make sure it never happens again.
Its work - anything but simple. The opening up of old wounds, hearing from bereaved relatives and questioning a former premier.
Nearly four years after the inquiry began - and 12 years after George was killed - commissioner Sidney Linden ruled that the OPP, the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris and the federal government all bear responsibility for events that led to George's death.
Linden's recommendations included:
- The disputed land should be returned immediately to the Stoney Point First Nation, which should also receive compensation.
- Ontario should establish a permanent, independent and impartial agency to facilitate and oversee the settling of land and treaty claims.
- Ontario should improve public education about its land claim policies, as well as aboriginal burial and heritage sites.
- Access to the Ontario land claims process should depend on whether the documentation filed by the First Nation provides clear evidence that there's been a breach of the legal obligations of the Crown.
- The OPP should establish a formal consultation committee with major aboriginal organizations in Ontario.
- Provincial police should establish an internal process to ensure racist and culturally insensitive behaviour by police is dealt with publicly.
- The province should establish and fund an Ontario Aboriginal Reconciliation Fund.
Inquiry began weeks into Liberal mandate
The Ipperwash Inquiry was set up a little more than a month after Dalton McGuinty's Liberals won the Ontario election on Oct. 2, 2003. Throughout the campaign, McGuinty had promised to call a public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened on the night of Sept. 6, 1995, when two bullets fired by Ontario Provincial Police acting sergeant Kenneth Deane ended George's life.
The altercation came a few days after about 30 protesters – members of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation – moved in to Ipperwash Provincial Park. They had occupied Camp Ipperwash – a nearby abandoned military base – for two years, to press their demands that the land be returned to them. The federal government had expropriated it in 1942 to make room for a military base. The protest was getting nowhere and the natives were getting frustrated that their land claim was still unresolved.
Mike Harris – Ontario's rookie premier when Ipperwash boiled over – had refused to order a public inquiry into George's death. He cited ongoing legal battles that he said had to be resolved before any inquiry could be held. That argument continued after Harris resigned and was replaced by Ernie Eves.
As the 2003 provincial election campaign wound down, the critical legal battles ended. The George family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the OPP and dropped their suit against Harris after the new Liberal government promised to call an inquiry. Deane dropped his appeals of his dismissal by the OPP.
Days after he was sworn in as premier, McGuinty announced that Sidney Linden – a former chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice – would head up the public inquiry.
Linden was also Toronto's first police complaints commissioner and chairman of the Police Complaints Board between 1980 and 1985. In 1987, he was appointed Ontario's first information and privacy commissioner, and was responsible for starting up the agency and serving as commissioner until April 1990.
When the Ipperwash Inquiry officially opened on April 20, 2004, Linden explained he'd be hearing evidence in two parts. The first part would look at the events surrounding the shooting of George and would be conducted the same as most inquiries: witnesses called and examined by commission counsel and – if necessary – cross-examined by parties who have standing.
Seventeen people and groups were granted standing for part one of the inquiry, including relatives of Dudley George and former premier Harris.
Part two of the inquiry would look at how to avoid another Ipperwash. Most of the hearings were held in the town of Forest, Ont., not far from Ipperwash Park.
The George family has insisted all along that Harris played a major role in sparking the police raid on the park that ended with the shooting of George. Harris has strenuously denied that.
Public inquiries are not trials – and they don't come up with the definitive answers that courtrooms sometimes provide. The Public Inquiries Act notes that the job of the commissioner is not to express any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization. In other words, the Ipperwash Inquiry was not set up to point the finger of blame at anyone – its purpose is to sift through allegations and accusations and try to find out who knew what, when.
As he opened the inquiry on July 13, 2004, Linden warned about the dangers of opening old wounds.
"I am mindful of the fact that revisiting the events that took place almost nine years ago may reopen wounds and rekindle feelings and tensions," he said. "The establishment of the inquiry may also raise unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved through the inquiry process."
The inquiry heard from 140 witnesses when testimony ended near the end of June 2006. The inquiry ended with closing arguments on Aug. 24, 2006. The final report came May 31, 2007.
- Harris government, OPP errors led to Ipperwash death, inquiry finds (May 31, 2007)
- Ipperwash findings to be released May 31 (April 27, 2007)
- Ipperwash inquiry ends (Aug. 24, 2006)
- Ipperwash inquiry hears final arguments (Aug. 21, 2006)
- Testimony wraps up at Ipperwash inquiry in Ontario (June 28, 2006)
- Crash kills police officer who shot native protester at Ipperwash (Feb. 26, 2006)
- Harris says he wouldn't change Ipperwash response (Feb. 20, 2006)
- Harris denies ever using profane slur against natives (Feb. 15, 2006)
- Harris says he knew Ontario's boundaries in fatal Ipperwash clash (Feb. 13, 2006)
- Angry Harris wanted protesters out of Ipperwash: former official (Nov. 28, 2005)
- 'Redneck' government was anti-Indian, Ipperwash inquiry hears (May 19, 2005)
- Harris wanted protesters out of Ipperwash (May 17, 2005)
- 'Oddities' in Ipperwash tapes to be investigated (Feb. 6, 2004)
- Critics say new Ipperwash tape reveals racist attitudes (Jan. 21, 2004)
- Racist comments by Ontario police caught on videotape (Jan. 20, 2004)
- Ipperwash videotapes to be released (Aug. 21, 2003)
- OPP officer who shot Dudley George resigns (Sept. 23, 2003)
- Letter suggests secret agenda in Ipperwash standoff (Sept. 4, 2002)
- Ontario premier files $15 million libel suit (Feb. 20, 2002)
- OPP officer fired over Ipperwash shooting (Jan. 18, 2002)
- Ontario premier begins testifying in wrongful death suit (Nov. 21, 2001)
- Ontario citizens shouldn't pay premier's legal bills, says NDP (Mar. 27, 2001)
- Ontario ombudsman wants Ipperwash inquiry (Sept. 18, 1999)
- Lawyer claims new evidence in Ipperwash shooting (Sept. 15, 1999)
- Government offers Ipperwash settlement (June 17, 1998)
- The Ipperwash Inquiry - Final Report
- The Ipperwash Inquiry
- Amnesty International backgrounder on Dudley George
- Ipperwash Provincial Park
(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window)