The Ipperwash Incident

Posted: October 1, 2011 by jsg91 in Ipperwash

The Ipperwash crisis took place in 1995 at the Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. The initial dispute was between the Ontario Provincial Police and Stoney Point Ojibway band, who were occupying the Ipperwash Provincial Park by protesting. The Stoney Point Ojibway band was protesting that the fact that the area had belonged to them until it was taken from them during World War II. The land was dispossessed from the Stoney Point Ojibway under the War measures act, for the purposes of establishing a military camp. The primary concern of the Stoney Point band was that the appropriated land was also a burial site. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had a plan in place to deal with this protest that emphasized coming to a resolution in a peaceful manner. Tensions rose when a confrontation took place at the Sandy Parking area of the park where it was alleged that protesters were carrying bats and sticks with which they were vandalizing vehicles. The OPP had dispatched a Crowd Management Unit and a Tactical Response Unit to try and contain the riot situation that occurred. One protester was arrested for using excessive force, and the protesters claimed that they were unarmed. However, during this riot the OPP heard what they perceived to be gunfire which led them to open fire on the protesters. The result of this gunfire was the death of Anthony O’Brien George, who was also known as “Dudley” George. He was shot because he was carrying a dark tree branch which was perceived to be a rifle by the officer who shot and wounded George. “Mr. George was the first Aboriginal person to be killed in a land rights dispute in Canada since the 19th century.”

An inquiry was launched on November 12, 2003. Sergeant Ken Dean was convicted of criminal negligence causing death after a court ruled he did not have a “reasonable belief” George was armed. Surveillance footage was discovered in 2004 which showed officers making racists statements towards the protesters prior to the death of Dudley George.Stan Korosec, in charge of the OPP emergency response team at Ipperwash, said, “We want to amass a fucking army. A real fucking army and do this. Do these fuckers big-time.” Former attorney general Charles Harnick also testified that then Premier Mike Harris said “I want the f****** Indians out of the park”. These statements highlight deviance on the part of the police and on the part of the Premier who ultimately gave to permission for the Tactical Response Unit to enter the area. The racist attitudes of the police could have lead to the use of deadly force where it was not necessary and if so their actions should be considered deviant and they should be held responsible as was Sergeant Ken Dean who shot and killed an unarmed George Dudley. One representative of the George family stated that with the attitudes the officers had towards the natives “Makes it pretty easy to shoot an Indian”. The events that transpired at Ipperwash Provincial Park highlighted the strained relationship between the natives and the police which ultimately lead to the shooting and death of George Dudley.

The inquiry yielded many suggestions however,only few results. the Ontario provincial government announced that they would be returning the land to the Stony Point First Nations on December 20, 2007. The process of transferring ownership took place gradually. It began with a co-management role between the Province and the Aboriginals, and eventually on May 28, 2009 control of the park was officially signed over to the Stony Point Band. Some of the recommendations to come out of the inquiry can be viewed here. The findings suggested that the police were unjustified in opening fire which eventually lead to charges being laid on Sargeant Ken Dean, and they dealt with such a sensitive and complex issue incorrectly. A major contributor to the aforementioned strain between the police and Aboriginal people was how land treaties and claims were dealt with. “the single biggest source of frustration, distrust, and ill-feeling among Aboriginal people in Ontario is our failure to deal in a just and expeditious way with breaches of treaty and other legal obligations to First Nations.”. The frustration also stems from the inquiry which produced many positive recommendations that were never put into action. Though the land was returned, many if not most of the recommendations made in the inquiry were not implemented.

Upon entering “Ipperwash Incident, investigation, implications” on the Google search engine I obtained 2630 results. The first result that came up was a Wikipedia page which was sectioned and laid out in chronological order starting from the background of the dispute up to the inquiry and the return of the land. Of the nine other results that came up two were from the attorney general, one was from CBC, one was from Amnesty international, one was a site dedicated specifically to the events that occurred at Ipperwash Provincial Park and the remaining were from local blogs. The information appears to be dated except for the Wikipedia page which can be updated daily and the link from Amnesty International was posted on September 18, 2011. The results indicate diverse sources of information. I find one limitation in the search results; that limitation being that there is no testimony from an officer attending the scene outside of those who testified within the inquiry. Such testimony would be vital to understand what made the officers feel that it was necessary to their safety to open fire. I think that one could get a fairly clear picture of the incident because the results retrieved come from both the point of view of the Stoney Point Ojibway and the Government. The picture that emerges from the first page of results is one that portrays the Indians as victims. Their treaty rights, their right to protest safely as well as their indigenous rights appear to have been violated by the police. Also, the information seems to be saying that violence was completely avoidable seeing as that the inquiry showed that the natives were unarmed.

Links:

http://www.amnesty.ca/resource_centre/news/view.php?load=arcview&article=5376&c=Resource+Centre+News

http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/report/vol_1/pdf/E_Vol_1_Conclusion.pdf

http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/

http://www.ojen.ca/sites/ojen.ca/files/sites/default/files/resources/Ipperwash%20Inquiry%20English.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipperwash_Crisis#Inquiry

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You provide a good overview of the events. It will be interesting to see if you can dig up some information that offers the police perspective that you are looking for.

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