Friday, June 1, 2007

Broken vows, festering ill will blamed for native protester's death

Scathing report. Ottawa urged to settle land claims


Published: Friday, June 01, 2007

After years of examining the 1995 death of native protester Dudley George at an Ontario provincial park, commissioner Sidney Linden laid blame yesterday for the fatal shooting on the police and governments.

And, as Ontario's aboriginal affairs minister offered apologies, the commissioner in charge of the Ipperwash Inquiry said: "the most urgent priority is for the federal government to return" the land to local native bands "immediately."

In Ottawa, federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice pledged to fulfill Linden's recommendation.

"We'll do something immediately. I've made it very clear we intend to transfer the land back to the First Nation. It has to be done in an orderly way though, where it is safe," Prentice said, citing environmental and other concerns that need to be resolved.

Ontario Provincial Police officer Ken Deane shot George on Sept. 6, 1995, two days after protesters occupied Ipperwash provincial park.

"There is no doubt that OPP acting Sgt. Deane shot and killed Mr. George and nothing in the inquiry challenges or undermines this conviction," Linden said yesterday. "However, acting Sgt. Dean should not have been in a position to shoot Mr. George in the first place."

Linden, whose inquiry began in 2003, said George's death occurred as result of a deadly mix of aboriginal frustration over decades of broken federal promises related to confiscated land, the provincial government's desire for a quick end to the park occupation and errors and miscommunications on the part of the OPP.

In the Ipperwash case, which is unresolved, Linden concluded Ottawa's refusal to honour its pledge to return native lands confiscated in 1942 for use as a military base meant the issue "festered for decades" while aboriginal frustration grew.

In 1995, a long-term occupation of an abandoned military base spread to neighboring Ipperwash Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron, the site of a native burial ground.

The commissioner added little has been done to defuse continuing tensions over land claims.

"The flashpoints for aboriginal protest and occupations are very likely as intense today as they were at the time of Ipperwash," Linden said.

"If the governments of Ontario and Canada want to avoid future confrontations they will have to deal with land and treaty claims effectively and fairly."

While Linden exonerates former Ontario premier Mike Harris of allegations he interfered in police operations, he finds Harris did push for a "speedy conclusion" to the conflict.

"The premier could have urged patience rather than speed. These decisions effectively foreclosed the possibility of initiating a constructive dialogue with occupiers or others on ways to end the occupation peacefully."

Linden also concluded Harris made racist comments, stating he wanted the "f------ Indians out of the park" during a meeting with senior officials.