Letter to Jane Stewart from the Coalition for a Public Inquiry
November 20, 1998
The Honourable Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
RE: PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE DEATH OF DUDLEY GEORGE
Dear Minister Stewart:
Thank you very much for your letter dated October 28, 1998, responding to our letter of September 11th. We are pleased to note that you share our "conviction that human rights must be protected". We are, however, very disappointed with your failure to acknowledge that a public inquiry is the only way to protect human rights in Ontario.
We are now calling on you to create a federal inquiry into the circumstances which led to the fatal shooting of First Nations citizen Dudley George in Ipperwash Park on September 6, 1995.
Horrible violations of human rights occurred during that 11:00 p.m. police assault on a handful of unarmed protestors. The results were: one death; one person being beaten unconscious and requiring three days hospitalization; a number of seemingly arbitrary detentions; and, a handling of press and public information which amounted to false propagandizing about the protestors having guns that simply didn't exist. To date, a low-ranking police officer has been convicted of criminal negligence and given a sentence of 180 hours of community service; he retains his job. No explanation has come forward for the lies about the guns or the arrests of the individuals who were seeking medical care and attention. The officers who beat one man unconscious have never even been identified. It is clear - from criminal trials as well as leaked documents - that the Ontario cabinet was integral to the decision to take a confrontational approach towards the protestors - seeking to have them removed from the Park as soon as possible. A local MPP, who was in the OPP command post during the hours before the assault, sending faxes to Ontario Cabinet members, was quoted as saying that Queen's Park will take a hard line with the protestors and if people are hurt - so be it.
Numerous other complaints have surfaced about the treatment First Nations Peoples are experiencing at the hands of the current Ontario government. Some of the issues frequently identified include: re-criminalization of fishing rights, reneging on the deal made for Casino Rama, the impact of "Lands for Life" (economic use of public lands in the north), cancellation of the Harvesting Agreement settled with the Williams Treaty Nations, loss of right to representation on Ontario school boards who are paid by Band Councils to educate First Nations children, and increased problems with the Ontario Provincial Police on First Nations territories in other parts of the Province.
When one examines the apparent 'get tough' attitude of the government towards the Stoney Point People at Ipperwash Park in the context of this list of grievances, it is clear that these are not isolated occurrences. There is an obvious pattern of intent to strip the First Peoples of this region of their right to self-determination -- a right recognized by the United Nations which, in Canada, is sometimes termed as Aboriginal Inherent Rights.
We disagree with your assertion that "only the Province of Ontario has the authority to call such an inquiry". The Province will not call this inquiry and, while our Coalition and others attempt to argue them into it, critical evidence is evaporating: eg. tapes, paper files and electronic records.
The Federal government has a clear and acknowledged fiduciary responsibility for Aboriginal Peoples living inside Canada. It is based on this responsibility that a previous federal government created the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. One might say that Canada has a social culture of engaging in inquiries and public investigations to set to rest outstanding public concerns about acts sanctioned or taken by government or other public bodies. Unfortunately, while this makes the lack of an inquiry into the circumstances around Dudley George's death even more glaring, it is saddening to observe that the mandating of public inquiries and similar investigations frequently seems designed to meet the needs of government rather than the public. In this case, literally thousands of calls for an inquiry by George family members, faith communities, editorials, Aboriginal and First Nations leaders, municipalities, labour organizations, human rights groups (including Amnesty International), civil libertarians and concerned individuals have gone unheeded.
Your government has an over-all responsibility in Canada for "peace, order and good government". You have special responsibility for Aboriginal Peoples. And, in the eyes of the international community, you have responsibility for maintaining one of the highest standards of respect for human rights of any nation in the world. Based on these mandates, you can and must call an inquiry into this matter.
We forwarded to Premier Harris (in a letter dated October 20th, which was copied to you) a strong legal opinion that the calling of such an inquiry would not prejudice the ongoing related court cases. We informed the Premier that if he did not take positive action, we would be forced to turn to the court of world opinion to bring pressure to bear for the inquiry. Our first preference, however, is to settle this at home.
Will you call a public inquiry into the death of Dudley George?
Members of our Coalition will be in Ottawa on December 10, 1998, to meet with our supporters on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Can we meet with you to discuss these matters further?
Ann Pohl & Darlene Ritchie Spokespersons for the Coalition
copies: The Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister of Heritage; also, members of the Coalition for a Public Inquiry