The Ipperwash Crisis took place in 1995 on land in and around Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park, which was claimed by the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. The underlying cause of the crisis was the appropriation of the Stoney Point Reserve in 1942 by the federal government for use as a military camp. After repeated requests for the land to be returned, members of the Stony Point First Nation occupied the camp in 1993 and in 1995. On 4 September 1995 protesters also occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park nearby. Tension between the protesters and the OPP increased, resulting in a confrontation on 6 September 1995 during which Dudley George, an Aboriginal protestor, was killed.

History and Background

During the Second World War, the government decided to build an army training camp on Stoney Point Reserve near Lake Huron, Ontario. The reserve had already surrendered 377 acres—including all its shoreline—to developers in 1928, under considerable pressure from the Department of Indian Affairs; part of this land was bought by the Ontario government in 1936 to create Ipperwash Provincial Park. When the federal government asked the Stony Point First Nation in 1942 to surrender the remaining reserve land for use as a military training camp, they refused. Undeterred, the government appropriated the land under the War Measures Act, giving the Stony Point First Nation around $50 000 in compensation and relocating them to the Kettle Point Reserve nearby.

Despite promises that the relocation would be temporary, the reserve remained a military camp into the 1990s. Moreover, neither the provincial nor the federal government honoured promises that they would protect the Stony Point burial grounds and gravesites. Representatives from the Stony Point First Nation, the Department of National Health and Welfare, and the Department of Indian Affairs (including then-Minister Jean Chrétien) repeatedly advocated for the protection of cemeteries and burial grounds, and the return of the reserve, but the Department of National Defence maintained that it required the land for training purposes.

Occupation and Confrontation

In May 1993 a group of Stony Point members peacefully occupied part of Camp Ipperwash (the military training camp), in order to assert their claim to the land and to prompt negotiations with the federal government. In 1994, the federal government announced that it would be closing the camp and returning the land; however, military personnel and equipment remained on site until 29 July 1995, when frustrated Stony Point First Nation protesters forced their way into the camp’s administrative buildings, prompting the military to withdraw completely.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) deployed uniformed and undercover officers to the area, including Ipperwash Provincial Park, as there were clear indications that the protesters intended to occupy the park as well. On Monday, 4 September 1995, a group of Aboriginal men, women, and teenage boys entered the park. Their reasons for the occupation included frustration with the federal government’s refusal to return Stoney Point Reserve, belief that the park was rightfully part of the reserve, and concern that burial grounds were not protected or respected.

While the stated intent of the OPP was to peacefully manage the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, the heavy police presence (including the use of helicopters and boats for surveillance purposes) heightened tensions. Unverified reports of protestors firing guns on 5 September 1995, and the use of rifles by the OPP contributed to increasing anxiety and tension among all parties. Local politicians further inflamed the situation, maintaining that the surrounding communities were terrified, and that the premier wanted a quick end to the occupation.

Owing to misunderstanding and miscommunication, both the protesters and the OPP believed that the “other side” was planning an attack on 6 September 1995. Conflicting accounts of an altercation involving Aboriginal protesters and unverified reports of firearms in the park led the OPP to believe that the occupiers had become violent. In addition to the OPP Emergency Response Team, the Crowd Management Unit and the Tactics and Rescue Unit were called in. The police, wearing protective gear and carrying weapons, advanced on the protesters to force them back into the park. The Aboriginal protesters, frightened by the appearance of so many armed police, became anxious and eventually angry, which further increased the tension and confusion. When one protester advanced toward the police, they responded by running to meet him; about 15 occupiers rushed to his support and several physical confrontations took place. In the commotion that followed, Acting Sergeant Ken Deane shot Anthony O’Brien “Dudley” George, claiming later that George had pointed a firearm at police officers. Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death on 28 April 1997 (he died in a car accident before he could testify at the later inquiry).

Inquiry

Despite the tragic death of George, there was no official investigation into the events of 6 September 1995 under the government of Ontario Premier Mike Harris. However, when Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party came to power, they quickly initiated an inquiry, which was headed by Justice Sidney B. Linden. The inquiry (2003–2006) revealed a number of problems with the province’s response to the events at Ipperwash Provincial Park. It appeared that several members of the OPP team were either largely ignorant of Aboriginal history and the issues around the protest, or held racist views about Aboriginal people in general. Former Attorney General Charles Harnick also testified that just hours before the shooting, Premier Harris had stated, “I want the f—king Indians out of the park,” a comment Harris denied making. Justice Linden found that Harris had likely made the statement, but that it had little effect on the actual events at Ipperwash.

The inquiry also found that Harris and the Ontario government had placed narrow limits on those responding to the situation, by maintaining that the occupation was illegal, and that there would be no third-party mediators and no negotiations. The OPP was criticized for failing to educate their officers regarding Aboriginal rights and issues, and for neglecting to use appropriate mediators or negotiators; the inquiry also revealed problems with communication, and with the system of intelligence gathering, analysis, and transmission. The federal government, which had not been involved during the crisis, and which had failed to return the land to the Stony Point First Nation in the first place, was also blamed for its part in the tragic outcome.

Justice Linden recommended a number of specific measures, including the immediate return of the army camp to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (along with a complete environmental clean-up by the federal government), monetary compensation, and a public apology from the federal government for its failure to return the land as promised. Other recommendations included 1) establishment of an independent body, the Treaty Commission of Ontario, to oversee land claims settlements; 2) increased public education about treaties and land claims; 3) creation of a provincial Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs; 4) creation of a formal consultation committee involving the OPP and Aboriginal organizations; 5) ongoing training and education of OPP leaders in terms of Aboriginal history, customs, and rights; 6) greater transparency and clarity regarding the relationship between police and government; and 7) involvement of the federal government in any Aboriginal occupations or protests, particularly those involving land claims.

Aftermath

Shortly after the inquiry report was officially released in May 2007, the Ontario government established a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. The province also agreed to transfer Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in 2007. In 2010 the Ontario government announced that it would transfer the land to the federal government, which alone has the power to add it to the reserve.

Negotiations around the return of Camp Ipperwash continued between the federal government and the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation until 2015. Complicating negotiations were concerns about environmental contamination, potential unexploded ordnance, and the presence of certain wildlife species considered to be at risk.

In September 2015, the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation accepted a $95 million settlement from the federal government that included return of the land as well as about $20 million in compensation to band members and $70 million for future development of the land. Although the deal was ratified by the First Nation, some Stony Point members opposed it as they did not believe that Kettle Point members should receive compensation. Several protestors demonstrated against the deal on 20 September 2015; Perry (Pierre) George, brother of Dudley George, was accidentally burned during the protest. The final agreement was celebrated on 14 April 2016, when it was signed by Chief Thomas Bressette, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.