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Inquiry into Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash

April 8, 1998

Phil Fontaine
Grand Chief
Assembly of First Nations

Dear Chief Fontaine:

Re: Inquiries on Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition of Victoria (ARC Victoria) strongly supports the Assembly of First Nations' call for an inquiry into the events surrounding both Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash. For the government to invoke the use of armed force – and particularly the use of the army – against its own citizens is one of the gravest and most severe actions that a government can make. In spite of these actions, the government has failed to provide a proper explanation of the circumstances.

We are concerned that seemingly unfettered use of the military and police power was conducted without proper and public accountability. An inquiry is long overdue. An inquiry should ask the following questions:

bulletWhat was the decision process leading to the standoffs? Who made the decisions, and who was in charge at each point in the process? A key issue is accountability: those responsible for the decisions to employ armed force must be prepared to explain their reasons and be held responsible for them.
bulletWhy were negotiations with the Gustafsen Lake protesters broken off, particularly in light of public statements made by native RCMP that they had recommended and believed that negotiations would resolve the issue?
bulletWhy are the government, Army, RCMP, and OPP so quick to use such excessive force against Native protesters? In the case of Gustafsen Lake, the protesters were a relatively small group of individuals who posed no threat to the general public. The Ipperwash protesters, meanwhile, demonstrating peacefully for a well-supported land claim, were unarmed, and specifically held off their protest until after the park had been closed to the public for the season. It is our impression that such excessive force would not have been considered in a similar situation had the protesters not been Native.
bulletWhat was the role of the media in the Gustafsen Lake standoff? Various reports have indicated that the army and the RCMP fabricated or exaggerated the actions of the protesters in order to justify the use of force. There needs to be a formal public policy for managing how our armed forces use the media, especially in situations in which the army is being used against Canadian citizens.

An inquiry would be inadequate if it does not consider the historical relationship between the native persons concerned and the Crown. It would be a gross oversimplification to consider the Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash events simply as `criminal' standoffs.

Good luck in your efforts to establish an inquiry.

Finally, I write to convey our overdue congratulations on being elected the Grand Chief of the Assembly. We look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Waldemar Braul
President