Ipperwash inquiry spreads blame for George's death

The Mike Harris government, Ottawa and the OPP all bear responsibility for events that led to the 1995 death of Dudley George, the head of an inquiry says.

Warning: This story includes offensive language

The government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris, Ottawa and the OPP all bear responsibility for events that led to the 1995 death of Dudley George, the head of the Ipperwash inquiry said Thursday.

Dudley George was shot and killed by a police sniper in Ipperwash Provincial Park on Sept. 6, 1995. His family has waited for more than 11 years for a public inquiry to answer some of the questions surrounding his death. ((CP file photo))
Commissioner Sidney Linden found Harrisdid not order provincial police into Ipperwash Provincial Park to remove unarmed aboriginal protesters, buthe could have "urged patience, rather than speed" at resolving the dispute.

"The federal government, the provincial government and the OPP must all assume some responsibility for decisions or failures that increased the risk of violence and make a tragic confrontation more likely," Linden said.

George, 38, was killed by a police sniper's bullet as Ontario Provincial Police moved in on the occupation by unarmed protesters atthe parkon the shores of Lake Huron on Sept. 6, 1995.

Lindensaid in his final report, released in Forest, Ont.,that he didn't believeHarris when he claimed he never made a racist statement about the occupiers during an informal governmentmeeting with provincial policejust hours beforeGeorge's death.

Commissioner Sidney Linden called for the disputed land along the shores of Lake Huron to be returned immediately to the Stoney Point First Nation, along with compensation. ((CBC))
Harris acknowledged during his testimony that he wanted the occupation brought to a quick end, but denied he said, "I want the fucking Indians out of the park," as former Ontario attorney general Charles Harnick alleged during his owntestimony.

"After carefully assessing the evidence, it is my view that Michael Harris made the statement," Linden wrote. "I agree with Premier Harris's characterization of the statement … as racist."

Harris's sense of urgency, in contrast tothe "go-slow" approach of police,"created an atmosphere that narrowed the scope" of potential peaceful resolution to the occupation, Linden said.

"The provincial government could have appointed a mediator or negotiator at any time, but did not," Linden wrote. "The premier could have urged patience, rather than speed."

Linden also found Harris and Harnick misled the leglislature about the so-called "dining-room meeting" involving government officials and police, andby doing so, contributed to the appearance of inappropriate interference and a lack of transparency by the government.

'Damning indictment,' Falconer says

Sam George, Dudley George's brother, praised Linden's findings as a "huge and wise step forward for natives and non-natives together."

"I hope it is as good for you as it is for us today," George’s brother said Thursday.

Former premier Mike Harris, seen testifying at the inquiry in Forest, Ont., denied making a racial statement at an informal government meeting hours before George was killed. ((CBC))
Georgesaidhis brother's legacy is that "he stood up for what he believed in… and for that he paid the ultimate price."

He added it would be appropriate for Harris to apologize to hisfamily.

"I think that's not too much to ask," he said.

But Harris's lawyer, Peter Downard, said the report showed no apology is required from the former premier.

"He did nothing wrong," Downard told reporters Thursday.

The finding that Harris uttered the commentis "absolutely historic," said Julian Falconer,a lawyer fortheAboriginal Legal Services of Toronto who participated in the inquiry.

"This is a damning indictment," Falconertold reporters after the commissioner presented his findings. "Mike Harris has a lot to account for."

OPPblamed for racism

The inquiry also blames the OPP for ill-informed actions, cultural insensitivity and racism, faulty intelligence and poor communications.

Senior OPP officers on the scene relied on "unverified and inaccurate information" when the police raid was launched, Linden said.

Linden alsofaulted the federal government for expropriating disputed First Nations land for military use during the Second World War, then in a series of "successive neglects," failing to give it back as promised.

In the more than 60 years following the action, the Stoney Point band tried to get the land back, claiming it contained a burial ground destroyed when the military camp was built.

About 30 unarmed protesters occupied the park in the summer of 1995 in response to what they said were decades of frustration overthe unsettled land claim.

Premier Dalton McGuinty launched the inquiry into the clash at Ipperwash only days after his Liberals swept to power in 2003.

Linden called for the disputed land to be returned immediately to the Stoney Point First Nation,which should also receive compensation.

The report's other recommendations:

  • 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 Nations 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.

With files from the Canadian Press