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'Errors made,' OPP admits to the Georges

Brother of slain Ipperwash protester says commissioner's apology touched his heart

Kate Harries
Globe & Mail
Posted on 16/06/06

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

FOREST, ONT. -- OPP Commissioner Gwen Boniface delivered a solemn apology yesterday to the brother of aboriginal protester Dudley George, killed by a police sniper when Ipperwash Provincial Park was first occupied 11 years ago.

"I also acknowledge that through our own officers' testimony and my own observation, that there have been errors made," the leader of the Ontario Provincial Police said.

Addressing Sam George directly, she praised his persistence in pushing for a judicial inquiry into the death of his brother and his diligence in attending the hearings every day. "I'm so impressed by your commitment to change," she said.

Referring to police memorabilia of the operation, she added: "T-shirts, mugs, inappropriate comments and more T-shirts I know have caused you further pain and I deeply regret that."

Mr. George said the apology touched his heart and he accepts it as sincere. "My family may be able to start their healing journey now," he told reporters. He said he felt Commissioner Boniface was "sincere in what she was saying."

Mr. George's lawyer, Murray Klippenstein, welcomed the commissioner's admission that mistakes were made. "The commissioner seems to have implemented a lot of changes, and this is a very big step forward that offers a lot of hope."

Interviewed after ending two days of testifying, Commissioner Boniface declined to specify the errors. "We'll wait to hear from Commissioner [Sidney] Linden," she said. "Clearly, some of the improvements that we've done are evident, and as we work forward I want to leave that to the inquiry to tell us those things that they'd like to see done differently."

She also refused to detail how the changes she's made are playing out in the current occupation of a Caledonia building site by Six Nations protesters.

She noted that the approach there is governed by a new framework, adopted in January, aimed at responding to incidents involving aboriginal protests. "As we work through a difficult situation, we'll continue to do everything we can to [arrive at a] peaceful resolution."

During her testimony, the commissioner outlined many changes, including:

The use of a minimum of three crisis negotiators from the start of an incident;

The training of seven aboriginal officers as negotiators. In 1995, there were two, and they were not asked to try to resolve the Ipperwash standoff;

Increased training for officers of all ranks on aboriginal issues, emergency response and intelligence analysis;

The clear display of riot squad officers' names or badge numbers on their uniforms and helmets;

A requirement that an incident commander direct operations from the scene, not a command post;

An end to the use of shield chatter -- officers beating their shields with their batons as a technique of intimidation.

But lawyer Julian Falconer, representing Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, questioned whether the OPP lives up to its promises of systemic change. He cited the 2005 Ontario Auditor-General's report that complained of uneven implementation in the OPP of community-oriented policing principles, first mandated in 1990.

The Auditor-General made several recommendations to address problems ascribed to insufficient resources, confusion and lack of priority.

"Have you implemented these recommendations?" Mr. Falconer asked Commissioner Boniface.

"I can't tell you for sure if we have," she replied.

Commissioner Boniface, who was appointed in May, 1998, urged Mr. Linden to make recommendations to the federal government. "Land grievances must be addressed," she said, and Ottawa must take a leadership role "if communities can live in peaceful co-existence. These grievances cannot and will not ever be resolved by police services."

Some policy changes are still being worked on, she said, including one that would restrict politicians' presence in command posts.

Marcel Beaubien, the local Tory MPP at the time, was briefed on the standoff by senior police officers at the command post on Sept. 6, 1995, hours before Mr. George was shot.

The commissioner also said she would be concerned if a meeting of top-level politicians attended by police officers took place without her knowledge. Such a meeting was held in then-premier Mike Harris's dining room to discuss the Ipperwash standoff hours before the killing of Mr. George and no notification was given to then-commissioner Thomas O'Grady.

She agreed that such a meeting could lead to or create a perception of political interference.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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