One Dead Indian: The Ipperwash Crisis and the Role of Premier Mike Harris

Written by December 26, 2001 by

By Joseph O’Connor

Slippery was now on his back. Someone kicked him in the head. Above him and all around him were forms that didn’t look human; they were just dark shapes raining blows down on his body. He had no idea how many there were, just that they were everywhere, swarming him.

He was beaten and yet soon he could no longer feel any pain. He felt only an odd, dull sensation, before everything went black. He lay face down, his mouth full of sound, and the blows kept coming.

Cecil Bernard “Slippery” George would survive the violent beating he took at the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) riot squad Tactical and Rescue Unit (TRU), on September 4, 1995 at Ipperwash. Unfortunately his cousin Dudley wasn’t so lucky. He was killed on that fatal night and for six years his family have lobbied for an inquiry into his death and the role played by Premier Mike Harris.

One Dead Indian, written by investigative journalist Peter Edwards tells the history of the Dudley George murder, a well-chronicled expose on the unwarranted brutality of the OPP against peaceful protesters.

“The natives first saw the phalanx of officers when the police rounded a corner just outside the park entrance. It was an eerie sight. Under the three-quarter moon more than 30 officers in dark gray were marching upon them in tight ranks known as a “box formation.”"

The incident could have been avoided if the OPP had listened to AFN National Chief Ovide Mercredi who requested the police postpone their raid until the next day, which would have given him more time to speak to the protesters. Mercredi was convinced that a confrontation in full daylight had less chance of escalating to violence. The OPP had their own agenda and refused to speak to the AFN chief on the night of Sept. 4, 1995. They had been given orders from the highest office in the province.

Premier Mike Harris denied he was in Toronto on September 4, the first of many lies. He was attending his own benefit party celebrating his election. He also had a meeting that same day with OPP superintendent Ron Fox, a liaison with the Solicitor-General’s office and Sergeant Scott Patrick. It was at this meeting that Harris made it clear to the police that the protest at Ipperwash was to be crushed at the cost of whatever action was warranted.

The premier later admitted he was at the meeting but couldn’t recall who else attended, and in between memory lapses, he hasn’t allowed an inquiry into the incident, which cost the Ontario taxpayers $500,000 in legal fees to keep the case out of court.

The crucial evidence that would either clear Premier Harris or incriminate him was on the files on the meeting of Sept. 4, which should have remained in OPP superintendent Ron Fox’s computer, files were requested by the Globe and Mail, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, by G & M writer Martin Mittelstaedt, who was informed that they had “vanished.”

“Efforts by the stall of the Information and Technology division of OPP to retrieve any records which may have been located in the folders were unsuccessful,” said deputy Soliciter-General Tim Millard, at the time.

Not only was Millard’s department missing files the OPP (claims not to have) had no Polaroid or video record of the arrests that night. There was no audio of Sergeant Ken Deane or any other members of the paramilitary unit responsible for the violence and death at Ipperwash.

This should have been enough to force an inquiry into the shooting death of Dudley George, but the Harris legal team was able to keep Premier Harris a safe distance from the court. Sgt. Ken Deane, the OPP officer in charge on the fatal night went on trial for the murder of Dudley George instead. A veteran police officer, Deane was a senior member of TRU and was highly respected in the OPP force.

Deane testified that the information police had on the protesters was that they were highly armed and when he saw Dudley George, on the road that night “he thought that Dudley had s rifle.

“He was scanning our position with the rifle. I discharged approximately three rounds at the individual. He faltered, fell to the ground, got up, threw his weapon back to the ditch area,” said Deane.

Sgt. Hebblethwaite’s testimony not only contradicted Deane’s, it left the judge doubting any of Deane’s story, Constable Cris Crossitt’s testimony was in the judge’s words “clearly fabricated and plausible.”

Sgt. Deane was found guilty and, for the George family, there was a small sense of retribution which only lasted until the sentencing.

Justice Hugh Fraser handed down a conditional two years less a day, to community service and he could possess a firearm once the sentence is completed.

Sgt. Deane will not even suffer the inconvience of house arrest.

“My brother’s life comes too cheap to these people. My brother gets laid in his grave and this guy gets sent home?” said Dudley’s brother Pierre.

A Call For Answers is one of the chapters in One Dead Indian and author Peter Edwards has done an excellent job in showing in great detail both the First Nation and police account of what actually happened.

The fact remains that the OPP did use excessive force that was not only uncalled for, and resulted in Dudley George’s death and Mike Harris walks away without even an inquiry.