The Ipperwash crisis was a land claim protest by the Stoney Point Ojibway Band that took place in 1995 at the Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. This protest became controversial and made national headlines when a heated altercation between the Ontario Provincial Police and the protesters lead to an officer shooting and killing protester Anthony O’Brian George who was known by most as “Dudley”. The officer involved utilized a denial of victim justification by saying that he perceived Dudley to be holding a gun which was later disproven in court. He was the first aboriginal person to die as a result of a land rights dispute in Canada since the 19th century. A more detailed account of the events can be found here. As a result of these events, an inquiry was launched which can be accessed here. This inquiry highlighted many issues in regards to police deviance, accountability, and the relationship between the Aboriginal people and the state. The first key issue I will look at is the tactical errors and mistakes made by the police which lead to the death of Dudley George. The second key issue I will examine is the politics behind the events that transpired at Ipperwash Provincial Park, specifically the government’s treaty obligations to the Aboriginal people of Ontario and whether they were handled appropriately. The third key issue I will examine is the existence of racist attitudes towards Aboriginal people and whether such attitudes influenced the actions of the officers and political leaders directly involved in the crisis. The Ipperwash crisis relates to the study of police deviance and accountability because the inquiry indicated some negligent behaviour on the part of the police. The crisis also drew attention towards the general issue of Aboriginal land claims protests and their cultural and historical significance.
The police involved in the Ipperwash crisis made several errors in conducting their duties that lead to the death of Dudley George that could be classified as deviant. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have specific guidelines in place to deal with land claims blockades that essentially state that efforts be made to negotiate and arrive at a peaceful solution except in the case of serious injury or death. The dispatching of the Tactical Response Unit (TRU) and the Crowd Management Unit (CMU) was a pre-emptive and unnecessary response to this type of protest because it was later proven that no threat of serious death or injury was occurring to anyone at the park. The inquiry stated that the protest was handled as if it were a sports protest. The crowd was much different from a group of sports fans in that it was people from one community who were unified by the firm belief that the land the land was sacred and it belonged to them. The failure to acknowledge the historical and cultural context the protest was being held within is negligence on the part of the police because the situation was much more than the trespassing violation it was treated as. Inspector John Carson who was an OPP commander at overseeing the events at Ipperwash admitted that that they did not exhaust all options to negotiate with the tribe and band leaders before taking more aggressive action. This statement indicates deviance on the part of the police because it shows that the commander did not follow the policy of the OPP to make an effort to negotiate and arrive at a peaceful solution. Instead, Inspector Carson had been encouraging the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to apply for an injunction to provide “political cover” in the case that force would be used. There was also a lack of intelligence gathering and communication on the part of the OPP. Intelligence gathering and setting up channels of communication proved effective during the Burnt Church crisis which was a dispute regarding Native fishing rights. At Burnt Church the RCMP used the liaison policing approach which aims to divert people from the criminal justice system and educate police officers on the cultural and historical issues in the community. They did so by establishing lines of communication with respected individuals in the Native community with the hope that these people’s credibility with the community would aid in the mediation process. In the end the RCMP mediated both sides to an agreement without having to use force. The OPP may acted negligently and not followed a similar formula to the one at Burnt Church because the events at Burnt Church cost the tax payers of New Brunswick $17 million and it also took approximately 3 years to resolve.
The second key issue to arise from the events at Ipperwash is the treaty rights of Aboriginal people and the government’s obligation to uphold them. The land had significance to the Stoney Point Ojibway occupying it because it was a sacred burial ground. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) much like the OPP failed to comprehend the historical and cultural importance of this land. “When the injunction was applied for to evict the Native occupiers, the MNR did not mention that Ipperwash Provincial Park was indeed being claimed as a burial ground”(De Lint, W & Hall, A, 2009, p.226). Actions such as this indicate that the situation was not handled as a serious lands claim by people with legitimate grievances but more like an eviction of people trespassing for no reason. The inquiry suggested that an official land claims be created because one did not exist at the time of this dispute. The Stoney Point Ojibway much like other Native land claim protestors base their protests on the fact that they have “title” to the land they are occupying, but the issue that arises is that the charter does not refer to “aboriginal title” in any way. “(Section 35) does not refer to aboriginal title at all. Instead, it recognizes and affirms existing “aboriginal and treaty rights.” Aboriginal rights are those possessed by Canadian First Nation people by virtue of their aboriginality, including but not limited to-rights in land.”(Nadasdy,2002,p.248). Land claims protests are prevalent throughout Canada because Aboriginal treaty rights are protected under our charter and those rights should at the very least be acknowledged if not honoured so that events similar to those at Ipperwash Provincial Park can be avoided in the future.
The third key issue to come out of the Ipperwash crisis is the discussion of whether race played a factor in the actions taken against the protesters which ultimately lead to the death of Dudley George. Systemic racism appears to be prevalent throughout Canada seeing as that Aboriginal people are heavily overrepresented in the criminal justice system in proportion to their population in Canada. It is quite plausible that such attitudes could have influenced the decisions and actions taken at Ipperwash Park. Mike Harris who was Premier of Ontario at the time made a controversial statement in regards to the crisis when he said “I want the fucking Indians out of the park”. This statement is powerful not only because it highlights the racist attitudes of Mike Harris, but because it highlights the racist attitudes of a person in a position of power. These attitudes were not only held within the office of Premier Harris, Stan Korosec who was in charge of the OPP emergency response team was also quoted as saying “We want to amass a fucking army. A real fucking army and do this. Do these fuckers big-time.” This statement is also significant because Korosec is also a person in a position of power and in his statement he clearly diverts from the official OPP policy that guides these land claim situations which emphasizes coming to a peaceful resolution in favour of a more militaristic and violent response. With attitudes such as those and those held by Harris and Korosec it gives the impression that death or serious injury was an inevitable outcome because the police deviated from the official policy and they were encouraged to do so by the government who disregarded the treaty rights of the Aboriginal people and pursued an injunction.
The Ipperwash crisis and the death of Dudley George relates to the broader themes of police deviance and accountability for several reasons. Deviance was observed on the both the part of the government as well as the police. The OPP admitted to not exhausting all available options to come to a peaceful resolution which is a clear deviation from the official policy of dealing with land claims blockades which proved to be quite effective years later in the Burnt Church crisis. The police in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the police pursued an injunction to essentially evict the occupiers under false pretences. The MNR failed to mention in their application the fact that the land was a sacred native burial ground in order to ensure that the application would be successful. The subsequent inquiry revealed racist attitudes on the part of the police which can be classed as deviant because it contradicts the police’s mandate to provide equal service to all citizens. Then Premier Mike Harris also made controversial racist statements that were mentioned in the inquiry. The Death of Dudley George brought national coverage to the events at Ipperwash Provincial Park and served as a tragic example of how not to handle the sensitive issue of Native land claim protests.
CBC News, (2007). The Ipperwash Inquiry. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ipperwash/)
De Lint, W & Hall, A. (2009). Intelligent Control: Developments in Public Order Policing in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
The Ipperwash Inquiry (2007). (http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/report/)
Nadasdy, Paul, (2002). “Property” and Aboriginal Land Claims in the Canadian Subarctic: some Theoretical Considerations. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 104. No1
Punch,Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland: Willan Publishing