WHAT IS THIS INQUIRY ABOUT?
On 6 September 1995, an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) sniper shot and fatally wounded an unarmed Indigenous man, Dudley George, after police moved to forcibly end a land rights protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
A landmark provincial inquiry was established on 12 November 2003 to look into the factors leading to the confrontation between protestors and police and ways to prevent excessive use of force in the future.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
In our submissions to the Ipperwash Inquiry, Amnesty International highlighted that the police killing of Dudley George was symptomatic of a complex and inter-related set of serious human rights concerns faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. These include their relationship with justice and policing systems, and shortcomings in the protection of land, resource, and treaty rights. Dudley George’s death symbolized a deepening concern that government laws, policies, and practices with respect to Indigenous peoples in Canada were out of step with international human rights standards, including the growing body of standards dealing specifically with the rights of Indigenous peoples.
In light of these concerns, Amnesty International urged the Commissioner to:
- press the federal and provincial governments to acknowledge that the federal/provincial constitutional division of powers must not be a barrier to the protection of human rights and to therefore develop a more coordinated approach to ensuring the protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada;
- develop recommendations that are sensitive to the wider international context of grave human rights violations against Indigenous peoples, and to do so in a manner that recognizes and affirms international standards for the protection of their human rights;
- outline the need for governments across Canada to develop and commit to a strong rights-based understanding of the nature of land and resource disputes, possibly through legislative reform; and
- adopt recommendations that will lead to laws and practices that conform to Canada’s binding international human rights obligations, including specific standards regarding the rights of Indigenous peoples.
STATUS OF THE INQUIRY
During the inquiry, the OPP pointed to a policy framework that it had adopted after the killing of Dudley George. The Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents states that during land rights protests the OPP will “make every effort prior to understand the issues and to protect the rights of all involved parties” and will “promote and develop strategies that minimize the use of force to the fullest extent possible.”
The Inquiry report released on 31 May 2007 endorsed the Framework, but it went further, setting out 100 recommendations on actions to improve the relationship between First Nations and the Government of Ontario.
Noting that police and politicians are often under intense public pressure to end Aboriginal protests quickly, the Inquiry took up a recommendation from the OPP, calling for the Province to adopt a similar “peacekeeping” model as official policy across all relevant departments. The Inquiry report also called on the Province to Carry out an independent assessment to determine how effectively the Framework has been adopted into OPP procedures and organizational culture.
Almost a decade has passed since the release of the Inquiry report. Despite the provincial government’s pledge to fully implement the Inquiry recommendations, Ontario has yet to adopt the recommended province-wide policy on Aboriginal protests. Nor has there been an independent assessment of how well the OPP is living up to its own policy framework. Other crucial recommendations on policing, treaty implementation, and public education are still unaddressed.
UPDATE – TYENDINAGA PROTESTS
On two occasions, in 2007 and 2008, the OPP mobilized hundreds of officers, including its highest level of response, the Tactics and Rescue Unit, commonly known as the sniper squad, to respond to protests over a longstanding land claim in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville. This preparation to use lethal force took place despite the fact that no evidence has ever been presented that the protest constituted a serious threat to public safety. In an incident in April 2008, the situation escalated to the point that OPP officers, panicked by a false report that a rifle had been sighted, drew handguns and leveled high powered assault rifles at unarmed activists and bystanders.
OPP actions at Tyendinaga call into question how well the lessons of Ipperwash have been learned and integrated into the way police respond to Indigenous land protests.
Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry (31 May 2007)