By Jim Ada
The evening that Dudley George was killed by the Ontario Provincial Police, (September 6, 1995), the Premiere Mike Harris happened to be celebrating his recent election victory at a gala event at the York Club. Peter Edwards of the Toronto Star notes the York Club has been described by James Fitzgerald of Canadian Business as a “ magnificently aloof Romanesque relic of the robber baron era.” Edwards explains the club was previously a mansion belonging to George Gooderham, president of the largest distillery in the British Empire. Premiere Harris’ congratulatory dinner in the historic brick and stone manor was hosted by the Financial Post newspaper, and the premiere shared his head table with business bigwigs and high ranking press personas such as Post editor Diane Francis, Conrad Black (president of Hollinger Inc.), Ted and Loretta Rogers of Rogers Communications Inc., Fredrik Eaton (CEO of Eaton’s of Canada), Paul Godfrey (president and CEO of the Toronto Sun), and Douglas Knight (president and CEO of the Financial Post).
Edwards wrote, “After grace was offered… the guests dined on a seven course meal that included smoked fillet of mountain rainbow trout, chilled vichyssoise, black angus roast tenderloin, and cold pear and juniper berry soufflé.” In stark contrast to this celebratory feast, the theft of a picnic basket in Ipperwash a few days earlier had caught Premiere Harris’ attention. He was quoted saying, “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.” The final report by the Attorney General regarding the Ipperwash Inquiry confirms racist comments made by the Premiere as well as the officers who dealt directly with Natives before and after the night of the crisis. They shouted at Dudley George in particular, taunting him, “Come on over Dudley. Come on over. Welcome to Canada. You want to be the first?”
In the short time Mike Harris had been Premiere of Ontario nothing other than “the picnic basket incident” had occurred regarding the Ipperwash claim of injustice. There had been various occupations of Ipperwash Provincial Park and the military base over the course of several years, held by a community that believes the land is theirs. One such occupation under Harris’s reign (July 29, 1995) began with the crashing of a yellow school bus into the park and ended with natives receiving federal government maintenance jobs (earning $10 an hour) from the military personnel and camp superintendents. Another occupation took place September 4th, just days before the crisis blossomed, and ended with the park superintendent giving the Stoney Point Natives a key to the main building, figuring there would be less damage. Out of these relatively harmless events, however, flowered the unacceptable death of Dudley George. The Ipperwash Inquiry reported that the premiere’s insensitivity, racism, and impatience narrowed the scope of options, and the premiere’s secrecy and involvement with a police matter was intolerable.
Light woke the bud of the crisis when on Labor Day, September 4, 1995 the Native people of Stoney Point moved in to occupy Ipperwash Provincial Park. It was about an hour and a half after the park closed—just how land can close is hard to understand—when the protestors cut a hole in the fence and drove several cars through it. With this event the occupation climaxed. The protest began with a dozen people, and although more individuals joined them over the next few days, the number of occupants never went above thirty-five according to police surveillance.
The Acting Superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) John Carson discussed the situation with Detective Sergeant Wright late that night trying to determine the necessity of a court injunction that would order the Natives to leave the park. Without an injunction it would be unclear whether or not the occupation was even illegal. “We may be forced to control outside,” Carson told Wright in a phone conversation.
Astoundingly, the morning after Dudley was killed, during a court hearing for this required injunction, their confusion became a strong point of contention. The presiding judge condemned the police for not communicating with the Native protesters. Court notes record the judge’s questions: “I want to know whether any effort was made by bullhorn, or otherwise, to indicate to this crowd that if they remained behind and inside the park that there was no intent on the part of the officers to go any further.” Whatever answer the judge received, he was forced to ask again “whether or not there was any attempt to communicate to the eight to ten people that were at the location at that time…that no attempt was going to be made to enter the park or pursue—that they were just to keep off the public access, keep off the public road, and remain in the park.” This time the lawyer responded that no direct attempt to communicate had been made.
Looking back to the initial Labor Day incident, records from undercover police officers called “badgers” indicate that the occupation was “very disorganized” and the only illegal activity amounted to “bonfires and firecrackers.” This innocuous activity resulted in establishment of a police mobile command post about a kilometer away from the occupation site. That evening, OPP superintendent Carson distributed the official plan for the officers calling it Project Maple.
Project Maple’s stated objective was to “contain and negotiate a peaceful resolution.” Officially, the plan called for thirteen police negotiators to be on call around the clock. Negotiation was originally the most important notion of Project Maple, though somehow, the OPP’s planned negotiations would devolve into “shield chatter.” Ambulances, caged buses, and arrest teams complete with female officers (arrests of women were expected) were all organized as Project Maple took shape. The police organized an arena in a nearby town of Forest for use as an “arrest center.” A building called Legion Hall was set up as the media center. Polaroid cameras were supposed to be in all the cruisers used for arrests, and two OPP officers would videotape all arrests so there could be no questions of brutality or excessive force. In the end, however, there were no videos or photos of Project Maple’s execution.
Political interest was keen as events unfolded. All levels of government were fixated on the crisis, from the premiere’s office to local MP Rosemarie Ur, who had called the OPP on the first day of the occupation. Premiere Mike Harris himself, though residing in Toronto, seemed to be calling too many shots from a distance. The provincial government wasted no time in getting involved with the executive branch’s affairs. The conservative premiere’s approach to Native affairs is well known for being tough, disregarding, and racist. Even so, Provincial Cabinet briefing notes state that the protesters were carrying no weapons—despite all the police surveillance trying to find otherwise—and that the occupation was nonviolent in its origin and execution and it should not be equivocated with the Oka Crisis or Gustafsen Lake.
On September 5th, Ipperwash Provincial Park superintendent Les Kobayashi delivered a written notice indicating the First Nations were to leave the park. When the occupiers refused to leave, lawyers for the Ministry of Natural Resources prepared to obtain the proper court injunction. In the meantime, park superintendent Kobayashi gave the protesters a key to the main building, thinking that it was better than risking potential damage from breaking in. Kobayashi was a Canadian of Japanese decent, and his own family had lost property and possessions during WWII under the War Measures Act.
On the same day, twenty high-ranking government officials met in Toronto. Representatives from Ministries ranging from the Solicitor General to Native Affairs all the way down to the OPP superintendent were present. Transcripts note that the issue of a Native burial ground at Ipperwash Provincial Park came up, but despite strong evidence to the contrary, the notes indicated there was no evidence for such a burial site. Those present in the meeting room wanted to “stick to the script” of Project Maple to “contain and negotiate peaceful resolution.” And yet there exists an interesting note that states: “Premier Office—any way to confirm gunfire” even though the topic had been discussed and it was concluded several times that all noises that sounded like gunfire were confirmed to be firecrackers.
Somewhere else OPP Detective Staff Sergeant Wright was organizing aerial support, armored personnel carriers, and offshore police boats. According to OPP communication transcripts word at the time was that nine protestors were in the park, including two women and three children. These police notes state at 4:07pm: “If they become pushy, arrest them and get them out of there. D/Sgt Richardson states that 100 arrest packages have been prepared.”
Additional police notes from September 5th refer to an infamous letter written to a newspaper by “Booper” George about the picnic basket incident. Booper condemned the “Army Camp Indians” and their actions at that time, saying, “Please do not think that all Chippewas act this way.” The conclusion in the police notes is “The councilor [Booper] is right, we are not dealing with your decent native citizen. We are dealing with thugs.” Another note states, “Enough is enough. Where is the leadership from not only the provincial officials, but also the federal officials and from First Nations itself? How can we negotiate with irresponsible, law breaking dissidents? We must come to our senses and take back control before something irreparable happens. As citizens of this country we have a responsibility to be law abiding, reasonable people. This should apply to all who live here.” These statements ring loudly of Canada’s narrow minded insensitivity to the Native cultures from whom it took lands during the 1830’s. Furthermore, at the moment this note was written, no attempt to negotiate had even been made. The move into and subsequent occupation of the park had not been ruled illegal, and the evidence of an ancestral burial ground in park lands would put them within their Canadian rights.
Things began to spiral out of control later in the evening on the 5th. Despite a law dictating when military weapons may be requested in support of civil power (i.e. under circumstances involving “riot or disturbance beyond the powers of the civil authorities to prevent or deal with”), the OPP called on Canadian Forces for a great deal of heavy equipment. Although the military’s aim was to remain “at arms length” and not become involved in law enforcement, the OPP was rearing to go anyway, communicating back and forth that “OPP are cognizant that no authorization for direct support…has been formally received…while I understand your predicament…I also know the turtle can only make progress when he sticks his head out.”