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One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police, and the Ipperwash Crisis

by Peter Edwards

Most Canadians assume that the police and the army exist to protect their civil rights. The police and military response to land-rights demonstrations at Oka and Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park illustrate why aboriginal people in this country do not assume likewise.

On Sept. 4, 1995, a group of unarmed aboriginal people from the community of Stoney Point, Ontario, occupied Ipperwash in an attempt to reclaim a burial ground on land that had been appropriated by the federal government for a military base in the Second World War. Within 24 hours, the Ontario Provincial Police had moved in. One protestor was shot and wounded, one was beaten until his heart stopped (he was revived), and Anthony “Dudley” George was shot dead.

Peter Edwards, an investigative reporter for The Toronto Star, clearly details the events leading up to the crisis at Ipperwash. The OPP’s plans to negotiate were scrapped after secret government meetings attended by Premier Mike Harris’s closest aide. Although the government has consistently denied any involvement in OPP operations, minutes from those meetings state that the newly elected Tories wanted the electorate to see them as decisive and effective. Those minutes – and other documents obtained by Access to Information requests – show that the government pursued a law-and-order agenda that emphasized weaponry and military tactics over negotiation. Using trial transcripts, Special Investigations Unit interviews, officers’ logs, and telephone conversations from the OPP command centre on the night of the shooting, Edwards proves, detail by detail, how that agenda led to the death of Dudley George.

Questions about Dudley George’s death have been raised at the UN and by groups such as Amnesty International – for good reason. In this country, as Edwards’s exhaustive and well-written examination of Ipperwash shows, aboriginal people need protection from the police.