In 1942, the Stony Point First Nation’s reserve was expropriated by the federal government for the use of a military camp (Morden, 2013). In years to follow, the tension between the federal government and those who were forced to relocate grew and despite multiple promises to return the land, the government failed to do so. As a result, on September 4th 1995, members of the Stoney Point First Nation occupied the Ipperwash Provincial Park in protest (Union of Ontario Indians). Barricades were built in an effort to re-claim the land and to protest the destruction of the burial ground. Among the approximately 30 protestors that were present, was Dudley George who was one of the group’s leaders (CBC News, 2007).
During the first day of the protest, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) moved in to remove the protestors from the park and several altercations developed (Hedican, 2008). Tension grew as the day went on with “the Ministry of Natural Resources and the OPP attempt[ing] to serve legal papers on the occupiers who refused to accept the documents” (Hedican, 2008, p. 163). The OPP withdrew temporarily and on September 5th, the following day, additional First Nations peoples from various communities arrived at the park to support the occupation (Hedican, 2008, p. 163). Police surveillance increased throughout the day and into the night with air and boat patrols.
On September 6th, the OPP returned in full force with full riot gear following the order of then-premier Mike Harris to engage in a nighttime raid (CBC News 2007). Attorney General Harnick later testified that Harris had made the racist statement, “I want the fucking Indians out of the park” at the Ontario Legislative Building during a meeting on the protest (Hedican, 2008, p. 164). It was at approximately 9:00pm that night that roads to Ipperwash Park were closed by the OPP and “thirty-two officers from the Crowd Management Team (CMU), an additional eight officers assigned as an arrest team, two canine teams and two prisoner vans, assembled at the park boundary” (Hedican, 2008, p. 164). Outnumbered and terrified, members of the protest gathered rocks and sticks for defence. The OPP claimed that the rocks and sticks were mistaken for “a number of assault weapons… AK-47s, hunting rifles, and Molotov cocktails” according to (Hardican, 2008, p. 165). The raid ultimately resulted the death of a protestor’s dog, severely injured protestors and the death of “an unarmed Anishinabek protester, Dudley George, [who] was fatally shot” by acting Sergeant Ken Deanne (Morden, 2013, p. 511).
The force and use of weapons used by the OPP has been debated “as police say they had no choice but to draw their guns because the protesters were armed; the protesters say the opposite, that they were unarmed and that police – dressed in riot gear – used unnecessary force” (CBC News, 2007). According to Hedican (2008), “from all reports at the time the protest was a peaceful, non-violent one with no visible weapons. There did not appear to be any immediate risk to public safety” (p. 164). The Ipperwash Inquiry also confirmed that the OPP used unnecessary force, and that there were no weapons or risk to public safety.
The Ipperwash crisis can serve as an example of how the engagement in dissent can be criminalized and those involved punished in extreme ways- sometimes resulting in death as seen in the tragic case of Dudley George. Since the protest, an inquiry was held in 2003, resulting in compensation for the George family, the “disciplining” of some of the officers involved and a final report that was delivered by Justice Sidney Linden in 2007 (CBC News, 2007).
CBC News. (2007, May 7). The Ipperwash inquiry. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/ipperwash/
Hedican. E. J. (2008). The Ipperwash Inquiry and the Tragic Death of Dudley George. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 28(1), 159-173.
Morden. M. (2013). Telling Stories about Conflict: Symbolic Politics and the Ipperwash Land Transfer Agreement. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(3), 505-534.
Union of Ontario Indians. Ipperwash: Tragedy to Reconciliation. North Bay: Union of Ontario Indians, web. http://www.anishinabek.ca