The Ipperwash Crisis: An Analysis

It is undeniable that the outcome of the Ipperwash crisis was none less than devastating. The death of Dudley George and the actions of the police towards the protestors as a group allows for the issue of criminalizing dissent to be brought to light, and hopefully eventually addressed at the institutional level. The Ipperwash crisis is significant when considering the criminalization of dissent as it serves as an example of exactly who is being criminalized- who is the enemy. The colonial history of Canada continues to impact aboriginal peoples as they remain discriminated and oppressed not only socially, but also institutionally.

The interactions between the police and the protestors during the Ipperwash crisis occurred with one party in a significantly more powerful position than the other. Backed by coercive power along with laws and public perceptions engrained with colonial ideologies, the police always had the upper hand when interacting with protestors. When white settler privilege is socially accepted as the norm, and as tacit knowledge, the position of aboriginal peoples in any kind of dispute becomes problematic as they are depicted as “others” or “enemies”, in need of police attention. Public support is extremely powerful as it acts to legitimatize the actions of the police, allowing racist and discriminatory actions to be carried out without question. Therefore working as an extension of the state, the police act with public support to control specific groups of people, legitimately. As Foucault notes, “characteristic of a police state is its interest in what men do; it is interested in their activity, their “occupation.” The objective of police is therefore control of and responsibility for men’s activity…” (2009, 322). This power dynamic allowed for the protestors to be criminalized, focusing media attention on the idea of them as “threats”, while completely disregarding the land claim and the possible destruction of a sacred burial ground (CBC News, 2007).

While working within the idea of the aboriginal peoples protesting as “threats”, police are able to further criminalize those involved as vague laws allow for them to be considered terrorists. This is evident in Canada Anti-Terrorism Act, as “overly broad definitions of who can be defined as terrorist make aboriginal peoples’ resistance movements hat take the form of highway blockages likely targets for classification as terrorist…” (Adese, 2009, 277). Those involved in the Ipperwash crisis were approached and defined by the media within this framework as publications were used to solidify stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples as “trouble makers, as social problems, and as those doing something illegal and violating the acceptable order of a just society” (Adese 2009, 279).   Being painted as such, the protestors are unable to capture attention for their cause, as they lose their voices while being treated as a safety concern. When understood as threats to national security, aboriginal peoples become otherized and coded with danger as Kinsmen discussed (2010, 150). Since police are seen as those who remove danger, they are supported in their violent actions against aboriginal peoples legitimized by claims to protecting the Nation. It is important to recognize who’s security is being defended, and who is being included and excluded in the definition of the Nation when these actions are being carried out by state actors. Being defined as dangerous, and as a threat to national security has put aboriginal peoples in an extremely difficult position when they try and resist injustices being carried out by the state, as their actions are immediately criminalized. As a result of neoliberalism, the emphasis of security, especially national security has created a growing fear and anxiety among the public, acting as leverage for specific groups to be targeted and deemed as threats or terrorists without question.

As briefly mentioned above, the colonial history of aboriginal peoples in Canada cannot go ignored when analyzing the criminalization of dissent. With racial hierarchies operating within society as normative assumptions, aboriginal peoples are subject to oppression and marginalization socially and institutionally. This allows for them to be easy targets of state actors and the media, who play up racist stereotypes when reporting to the public. Being regularly criminalized for things such as living in poverty, aboriginal peoples who are subject to the abuse of police powers go unheard as they are already deemed as problematic and “lawless” members of society (Adese, 2009). This powerful imagery works in favor of the police as it is easy for them to build on public assumptions that have already been established when an incident does occur. In the case of Ipperwash, protestors were described as violent, with police claiming they were armed- justifying riot gear and the use of guns, which ultimately resulted in the death of Dudley George.

The Ipperwash Crisis is significant in understanding the criminalization of dissent as it serves an example of race and colonial relations in Canada and the impact it has on aboriginal peoples who engage in dissent. Within a neoliberal framework of minimizing risk, and national security, aboriginal peoples are easily targeted by state actors, rather than heard. Stereotypes that have becomes normalized assumptions also fuel how media publications and information is received by the public. Having a base of racist ideologies that operate institutionally, allows for aboriginal peoples to be criminalized without question, legitimized by public and legal support. Although always having to work against the power dynamics historically established between the state and oppressed groups of people, aboriginal peoples need to continue in their resilience in protecting land claims and resisting state abuse. Without continued dissent and changes in the education system, progress cannot be made.

Adese, Jennifer. “Constructing the Aboriginal Terrorist: Depictions of Aboriginal Protests, the Caledonia Reclamation, and the Canadian Neoliberalization.” In Engaging Terror. A Critical and Interdisciplinary Approach. Boca Raton: Brown Walker, 2009. 275-85.

CBC News. (2007, May 7). The Ipperwash inquiry. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/ipperwash/

Foucault, Michel. “Security, Territory, Population”. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador, 2009. 311-328.

Kinsman, Gary. “Against National Security: From the Canadian War on Queers to the `War on Terror” In Locating Global Order: American Power and Canadian Security after 9/11. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. 149-166.

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