Ipperwash allegations 'malicious and petty,' Harris says
Warning: This story contains offensive language
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris says an inquiry report into the 1995 death of aboriginal protester Dudley George clears him of any responsibility, despite the George family's calls for him to apologize.
In a statement released Thursday, Harris said he was satisfied that inquiry commissioner Sidney Linden found he did not direct or interfere with the OPP's actions, meaning Harris "had no influence" on the events that led to George's death in September 1995 at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
"I am pleased that 12 year's worth of false and politically motivated accusations were rejected by Mr. Justice Linden in his report," Harris said.
"I hope that Justice Linden's findings completely absolving me and my government of these malicious and petty political allegations will allow the George family to move on and allow all levels of government, including aboriginal governments, to work co-operatively and positively towards a better future for aboriginal people in Canada," the statement read.
Harris made no reference to Linden's conclusion that the former premier did not tell the truth when he testified that he did not utter a racial slur in an informal government meeting just hours before George was fatally shot.
During the hearings, former Ontario attorney general Charles Harnick said he heard Harris say, "I want the fucking Indians out of the park" during a meeting with government officials to discuss the crisis. Harris told the inquiry that was "not the kind of language" he would use at any kind of meeting.
But Linden said he believed Harris made the statement.
"I have found that both the former premier and the minister of natural resources made racist comments in what has become known as the dining room meeting, although both denied making these offensive comments," Linden told reporters on Thursday.
"These comments and the speed at which the premier wished to end the occupation created an atmosphere that unduly narrowed the scope of the government's response to the occupation," he said.
Julian Falconer, a lawyer for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, called the findings of racism and the appearance of government interference "unprecedented."
"The report is a damning indictment," he told reporters. "Mike Harris must admit he did wrong and apologize."
After the findings were released, Dudley George's brother Sam thanked the commissioner and asked for an apology from the former premier, or at least from the current provincial government.
"We are deeply grateful to the commission and his report is a huge step forward," he said. "My brother stood up for what he believed in … and for that he paid the ultimate price."
Province apologizes to George family
In response to the report, David Ramsay, Ontario's minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, offered an apology on behalf of the province.
"We apologize for events that led to the loss of life and we deeply regret the death of Dudley George," Ramsay said. "This report will serve as a testament to his memory."
He also promised the province will work closely with federal officials to improve relations with aboriginal communities who are trying to resolve land claims.
Ramsay said staffing levels at the Ontario Secretariat for Aboriginal Affairs have risen 35 per cent in the past 18 months. He also said an Ipperwash response team would implement the recommendations of the report.
One of nearly 100 recommendations in the report called on Ontario to establish a stand-alone Aboriginal Affairs Ministry within the provincial cabinet.
"We support Minister Ramsay's apology on behalf of the government and people of Ontario," Conservative Leader John Tory said in a statement. "I hope that both that apology and the release of this report will bring a measure of closure to Dudley George's family."
Earlier this month, federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice promised he would introduce a plan to deal with the backlog of unresolved aboriginal land claims after the release of the Ipperwash report.
Linden's report called on the federal government to "immediately return" the disputed land, which he said was taken from the Stoney Point band in 1942 for use as a military base.