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Land & Jail

Issue: 54 Section: Original Peoples Geography: Canada, Ontario Topics: police brutality, Indigenous

September 23, 2008

Land & Jail

Ipperwash, official racism and the future of Ontario

by Kim Petersen

[cc 2.0] A memorial to Dudley George in Toronto. Photo: Jay Morrison

On May 31, 2007, nearly 12 years after Dudley George was shot by an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer, Sidney Linden released the four-volume Ipperwash Report.

In his remarks when he released the report, Linden, the commissioner of the Ipperwash Inquiry, noted that George was the “First aboriginal person to be killed in a land-rights dispute in Canada since the 19th century,” and stated: “If the governments of Ontario and Canada want to avoid future confrontations, they will have to deal with land and treaty claims effectively and fairly.”

[cc 2.0] Mike Harris testifies during the Ipperwash Inquiry. Photo: Sheila Steele

At this time Linden also noted, “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 Ipperwash Report explores the events that led to George's killing and makes a number of recommendations to the provincial government.

Recent police actions against Indigenous defenders of the land and provocative statements by government officials contradict the recommendations of the Ipperwash Inquiry, as well as the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which called for a restructuring of the relationship between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples through “a comprehensive agenda for change.”

Origins of the Ipperwash conflict

In 1942, the federal government expropriated land belonging to the Stony Point First Nation under the War Measures Act to build a military training facility called Camp Ipperwash. The Department of National Defence offered a conditional return of most of the land after the war, but later rescinded the offer. The dispute simmered until 1995, when approximately 30 frustrated defenders of Indigenous title barricaded the park.

The OPP faced off against the defenders. In a tragic series of events now referred to simply as Ipperwash, OPP Sergeant Kenneth Deane shot and killed 38-year-old Stony Point activist Dudley George. Deane was sentenced to 180 hours of community service.

In the Ipperwash Report, Linden ruled that the OPP, the government of Ontario, Premier Mike Harris and the federal government were responsible for the Ipperwash tragedy. He identified the number one priority as the “return of the former army camp to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation immediately, with an apology and appropriate compensation.”

On December 20, 2007, Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant announced that Ipperwash Provincial Park, located on the former army base about 40 kilometres northeast of Sarnia in southwestern Ontario, would be returned to the Ojibwas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. “In doing so, we are sending a clear signal that the McGuinty government is acting on the premier's ambitious agenda on aboriginal affairs,” said Bryant.

A closer look at the issue and the report reveals that the Ontario government still has a long way to go, however. Linden presented an understanding of the “frustration” of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation that precedes the occupation of the park in 1995. In fact, he held, the grievance goes even further back than the federal government expropriation of Stony Point land in 1942:

The roots of the Ipperwash occupation go back as far as 1763, when King George III made the protection of Aboriginal land an official crown policy. The 1763 Royal Proclamation established an "Indian Country," as it was then referred to, where aboriginal land was protected from encroachment or settlement. When Sir William Johnson came to Niagara Falls to explain the Royal Proclamation to 1,500 Anishinabek Chiefs and Warriors, he consummated the alliance by presenting two wampum belts, which embodied the promises contained in the proclamation.

Indeed, an understanding of history seems crucial to overcoming the division between Original Peoples and non-indigenous peoples.

Racism, from Mike Harris on down

On February 16, 2006, the Ipperwash Inquiry heard testimony from ex-Attorney General Charles Harnick who related what then-Premier Mike Harris had said: "I want the fucking Indians out of the park."

Although Harris denied this accusation, Linden maintained that the comments were made.

First broadcast in 2004, tapes obtained through an access to information request by the CBC’s The Fifth Estate revealed racist banter among OPP officers as well:

“Is there still a lot of press down there?”

“No, there's no one down there. Just a great big fat fuck Indian.”

“The camera's rolling, eh?”

“Yeah.”

“We had this plan, you know. We thought if we could get five or six cases of Labatt's 50 [beer], we could bait them.”

“Yeah.”

"Then we’d have this big net at a pit.”

“Creative thinking.”

“Works in the [US] South with watermelon.”

The day before George was killed, Sergeant Stan Korosec of the OPP emergency response team at Ipperwash was recorded on tape saying: “We want to amass a fucking army. A real fucking army and do this. Do these fuckers bigtime.”

“Cultural insensitivity and racism,” Linden says, was “not an isolated incident” within the OPP. However, Linden found it was politicians who had pressured the OPP away from its initial “go-slow” approach to the stand-off.

OPP Inspector Ron Fox was recorded saying, “We're dealing with a real redneck government...They just are in love with guns. There’s no question. They don't give a shit less about Indians.”

The criminalization continues

When Original Peoples have fought, demonstrated for, or pursued legal routes, they have been, for the most part, unsuccessful in securing control over their traditional lands. The federal and provincial governments, for their part, have long resorted to the criminalization and incarceration of Original Peoples defending their land claims.

This strategy has been used by the OPP in the case of Tyendinaga Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) leader Shawn Brant-–as evidenced by repeat arrests against him without conviction.

Brant is a long-time activist, having demonstrated at Oka and Ipperwash. During the November 2006 Tyendinaga reclamation of a gravel quarry-–allegedly stolen by the Canadian government-–Brant was charged with making death threats to Canadian army personnel. On April 14, 2008, Brant was cleared of the charge by Justice Charles Anderson, who, according to Sue Collis, Brant’s wife, described the police and provincial roles in the affair as “problematic” and “troubling.”

On April 25, 2007, Brant was arrested for alleged involvement in organizing a blockade of a Via Rail line to stop construction on land in Tyendinaga Territory, a community situated on the Bay of Quinte in southeastern Ontario. Brant, arrested during an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, said:

"This is it. Justice for First Nations communities: lock us up. Anybody who speaks out, lock ‘em up. KI6, Bob Lovelace, lock ’em up. That’s what it’s about: lock ‘em up. Don’t fix the problems, lock ’em up."

On June 29, 2007, the Aboriginal Day of Action, Brant organized the blockade of a CN rail line and Highway 2, running through Tyendinaga Territory. According to CBC’s The Current, the OPP had deployed “heavily armed units” to the sites of the blockades, and OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino allegedly warned Tyendinaga that, “The OPP would go in with everything they had, whether or not there were women and children.”

These actions were contrary to the recommendations of the Ipperwash Inquiry and, as activist group No One is Illegal pointed out, “...disregarded their common practice of obtaining injunctions before considering using force against indigenous occupations.”

Brant was charged with mischief and breach of bail conditions.

On April 25, 2008, Brant was arrested and detained for assault and possession of a weapon (a fishing spear) in a confrontation precipitated by James Lalonde and Mike Lalonde-–two residents of Deseronto-–against Tyendinaga women and girls.

Brant has become emblematic of federal and provincial policing against Original Peoples: if they struggle for their land, they will be thrown in jail. According to some observers, the OPP is involved in a disinformation campaign and trumped-up charges that undermine the very basis of the Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations.

On July 30, the Toronto Star online headlined: “OPP forgets lessons of Ipperwash.” The political and legal persecution of Brant was exposed through comments made to Brant by Commissioner Fantino during an illegal wiretap of Brant’s phone between July and August 2007.

Brant’s lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, criticized Fantino for the wiretap and his controversial statements. Rosenthal called on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to investigate whether Fantino was appropriate for the commissioner’s post (which Fantino continues to hold at time of writing).

Among the statements Fantino made to Brant, as revealed by transcripts of the OPP wiretaps, are:

“I don’t wanna get on your bad side but you’re gonna force me to do...everything I can within your community and everywhere else to destroy your...reputation” and, “Your whole world’s gonna come crashing down on this issue."

Fantino also urged Brant to “pull the plug” on the blockades or “suffer grave consequences." At a news conference, Rosenthal said Fantino threatened Brant "with premature death at the hands of [an OPP] sniper."

Rosenthal warned, “If somebody does read that transcript, who’s aware of Ipperwash, they would recognize that there's danger in allowing Fantino to be head of OPP and the danger we talk about is life and death.”

Fantino issued the following statement in response: "Consistent with the recommendations from the Ipperwash Inquiry, the OPP continues to work collectively with legitimate First Nations leadership and communities to ensure that both the interests of participants during lawful protests and public safety can be served in the best way possible."

This is part one in a series of articles about the systemic incarceration of indigenous peoples in Canada.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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