Police Brutality and Accountability at Ipperwash

Posted: November 1, 2011 by luck26 in Ipperwash

-Description- Police brutality against group protest is a growing issue for the criminal justice system across Canada. In Ontario, the infamous Ipperwash incident highlighted the ongoing struggle between the First Nations and the Government. The events at Ipperwash were about a dispute over land claim and the Aboriginal citizens engaged in a peaceful protest resulted in the killing of one protester, by the Ontario Provincial Police (Fennel, 1995). Such unfortunate outcome often increases tension between the First Nation, the Government, and the police. Over the past twenty years, incidents involving police brutality have led to a negative perception of the police by groups who demonstrate their dissatisfaction with public policy (de Lint, 2009). Events such as the highly publicize Ipperwash crisis in Ontario led to community allegation of a police state, whereas the political elites interfere in police operations (de Lint, 2009).

-police misconduct is embodied in the police institution- According to Punch (2011) “even when the rule of law is ostensibly  in place it can be that states representatives faced with an acute treat, resorts to illicit force (Punch: 4) .”  Prior to Dudley George killing, the then Ontario premier Mike Harris issued an order to operate a night time raid in order to remove the protesters from the park.  Furthermore, the event was highly covered by the media all across Canada. As a result, during the events at Ipperwash, the OPP had a tremendous amount of pressure for productivity, from the public and the police organization itself. In order to answer expectation sfrom the public, media and their management, the police are likely to use extra-legal methods in order to solve the issue. In the book “Police Deviance”, the author Maurice Punch mentioned that the use of extra-legal methods is embodied in the police institution and is also an occupational requirement.  It is legal and legitimate for the police to use force in circumstances whereas there are threats to the victim’s life or the officer’s life. However, in case such as Ipperwash, the protester who was killed by the police was not a threat to anyone, neither he had any weapon on his person.  The officer who opened fire did not have any legitimate reason to justify his action. Therefore, the killing of Dudley George at Ipperwash camp was a crude act of police brutality. Maurice Punch, explain that the Dirty Harry phenomena is when the police use extra-legal methods such as violence in order to arrest the criminal. It occurred when the police continue to use extreme force even though the suspect is not a threat. The police who use Dirty Harry methods see themselves as correct officers because bending the rules is essential for achieving their goals. Therefore, the use of extreme force is an occupational requirement for the police. The Police officers who took part of the night raid at Ipperwash did use “Dirty Harry” methods so they can “get the job done”. The unfortunate end result was the homicide of unarm man who was not a treat to anyone safety.

-rotten apple vs rotten orchard-  The events at Ipperwash had little to do with one police officer who decides to pull the trigger on a protestant. It is the result of social, institutional, and cultural pressure that pushed the officer to commit the ultimate act. In other words, social pressure has to do with the relationship between the society, the media and the police; institutional pressure has to do with organizational structure; cultural pressure has to do with the police culture, brotherhood and code of silence (Punch, 2009). The police officer who shot and killed the protester was convicted of criminal negligence causing death after the court ruled that the accused officer did not have the “reasonable belief” the protester was armed and dangerous.  As a result of the commission that investigated the police behavior at Ipperwash Park, only two officers were own accountable for their racist comment. One was sent to sensitivity training as disciplinary measure and he later resign from the Ontario Police Force while the other officer who was guilty of criminal negligence was laid off. The commissions address the police wrongdoing as an individual failure, but did not address any issue regarding the institutional failure. In other word, the commission analyzed the Ipperwash incident by maintaining the hypothesis of “bad apple” and disregards anything related with the police institution. According to Punch (2009), there is a cycle to police scandals and reforms. The chain of event begins when the police wrongdoing is enlightened by the media, which draw social and political attention. Then, a commission investigates the events and results in special measures that are believed to remove the issue for good. However, similar events with a similar commissions and results with similar measures reoccurred as time passed. The problem of police misconduct is not address properly by the commission, who still make use of the “bad apple theory”, and unfortunate events such as the death of an unarm civilian is the result of such misconception.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchmen?) There is concern about the police and the government transparency and accountability when policing event such as Ipperwash or any other form of protest. According to Punch, “policing, in order to be effective, must be based on consent across the community (Punch: 2009).” He also argued that the concept of accountability is “the formal obligation within a democracy; notion of good governance; of being transparent to the public and other stakeholder on policies and conduct; and of internally generated norms of professional accountability (Punch,  2009). At Ipperwash in 1995, pressure from then Prime Minister Mike Harris government on the police may have urged the officers to remove the protesters. As a result of the government extensive pressure, the police use deadly force even though no one’s life was in jeopardize. Similarly, more recently, the former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was involved in the 1997 Asia Pacific Economic Community conference in University of British Columbia and the protesters were again the victim of police brutality (de lint, 2009).  According to the Ipperwash final inquiry report (p.74), transparency in decision making will enhance police accountability and facilitate communication between the police and the community. In the context of Aboriginal protest over land claim, transparency will address the issue of distrust between the government and the police vis-a-vis the Aboriginal community.


De Lint, W. Hall, A.(2009). Intelligent Control: Developments in Public Order Policing in Canada. Toronto, CAN: University of Toronto Press.

Fennel, T. (1995). Deadly Confrontation on an Ontario Reserve. Maclean`s. 108(38). 22-24.

Punch, M. (2009). Police Corruption. Deviance, accountability and reform in policing.  Portland, Or:Willan Publishing.

Punch, M. (2011). Police accountability, firearm, and fatal force. Portland, Or: The Policy Press.

  1. Tia Dafnos says:

    You have a very good critical and structural analysis of the case, and your analysis raises some questions. The issue of police brutality often seems to be taken up in an individualistic/ “rotten apples” approach. Your discussion here suggests this is much more of a systemic problem shaped by racism and colonialism. What impact does the history or “legacy” of police forces in colonial relations have on contemporary relationships between indigenous peoples and the police? In other words, what impact does the legacy of brutality against indigenous peoples have on being able to develop relationships of “trust”, especially in light of contemporary instances such as the killing of Dudley George or the tasering of protesters during the raid at Caledonia in 2006? Do you think that the “Dirty Harry” problem is context-specific or a feature of police culture/training more generally? In relation to this, how effective do you think accountability and reform measures such as “sensitivity”, “diversity” or “cultural awareness” training is to address the problem of the “rotten orchard” and systemic racism? I agree that transparency is an important mechanism towards police accountability, but I’m torn as to whether it actually has any real effect. The Ipperwash Inquiry came many years after the events and I wonder whether the outcomes (recommendations) have had any significant influence on changing the way that police and government respond to indigenous land claims and protests.

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