By Rudy Platiel
Native Affairs Reporter, The Globe and Mail
[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]
TORONTO - Provincial officials have refused to confirm or deny that just before the fatal shooting of an aboriginal protester at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995, someone at a high-level government meeting urged the OPP to "get the [expletive] Indians out of the park even if you have to use your weapons."
In an exchange of legal documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, provincial lawyers admit that Premier Mike Harris did investigate the allegation.
However, while denying that the remark was made at a cabinet meeting on Sept. 6, 1995, the province refused to either deny or confirm that it was made at a Sept. 5 meeting that is believed to have involved various government officials and police.
Ontario's refusal came in a civil suit launched by the family of Anthony Dudley George against the government, Mr. Harris, Attorney-General Charles Harnick, Solicitor-General Robert Runciman and the Ontario Provincial Police.
A lawyer for the province wrote to the George family's lawyers, warning them that the refusal to confirm or deny should not be construed as an admission of anything.
Among the questions the province also refused to confirm or deny were ones about whether an interministerial committee meeting took place on Sept. 5 and who attended it.
It also refused to confirm or deny that someone at the meeting ridiculed a suggestion to negotiate an end to the occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
The documents were obtained by The Globe from the George family's lawyers.
Mr. George, 38, was killed on Labour Day weekend in 1995 after he and a group of natives occupied the park, claiming it contained a sacred burial ground.
Mr. George's family accuse the government, Mr. Harris and two cabinet ministers of causing the wrongful death of Mr. George by deciding to send "the paramilitary tactical response unit of the OPP" into the park instead of first attempting negotiations.
After the shooting, Mr. Harris publicly denied that he or his cabinet ministers were involved in the decision to use force on the protesters. He maintained that it was entirely a police decision.
The province has not yet filed a statement of defence, but as part of the suit, lawyers for the family submitted a list of 124 questions to the province, asking for either an admission or denial that they were true.
Yesterday, Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Ministry, said it was "extremely unusual" to receive such a request so early in a suit and the government "will make disclosure of documents and participate in examinations for discovery in the ordinary course, at the appropriate time."
Murray Klippenstein, one of three lawyers for the family, said that submitting questions for admission or denial is a common method of narrowing the issues and facts in a suit. [...]
The province said it was refusing to confirm or deny because the question has "no bearing" on the suit and, in any event, a reply may prejudice "an ongoing criminal investigation."
Acting OPP Sergeant Kenneth Deane, second-in-command of the Tactics and Rescue Unit at the Ipperwash confrontation, was charged last summer with criminal negligence causing death after a 10-month investigation by the Special Investigations Unit.[...]
Mr. Klippenstein said, however, that it does not make sense to suggest the remarks have no bearing on the case because the central issue is whether the OPP was instructed by the Premier or cabinet ministers to use "deadly force" on the protesters.
"These requests to admit get right at the heart of that important allegation," he said.
"Given how important these allegations are, I'm at a loss to think of why they can't deal with it now" particularly, Mr. Klippenstein said, "because they do know the answer" since they admit Mr. Harris investigated.
In any event, if the question has no bearing, why did the province deny that the statement was made at the cabinet meeting, he said.
Delia Opekokew, the lead lawyer for the George family, said she was first told of the alleged comments last January when she began researching the statement of claim to be filed in the family's suit.
"We started to receive information from several sources that . . . the order [to get the Indians out of the park] had come from someone speaking on behalf of the Premier," Ms. Opekokew said.
"This [allegation] was coming from several independent sources and finally with my own common sense I realized that [the handling of Ipperwash] was a great change from the past as to how Indians had been dealt with in mediation and consultation in tense situations," she said.
"This had to come from the top because I couldn't see the OPP changing their tactics without being ordered to do so. It just didn't make sense," she said.
Last spring, the George family authorized the setting up of "a snitch line" and publicly encouraged civil servants and others to telephone anonymously with information.
Ms. Opekokew said more calls were received reiterating that the decision came from the top.
Andrew Orkin, another lawyer for the George family, said it is absurd for the province to say that questions may jeopardize the police officer's defence at trial. In fact, he said, the opposite could be true.
Confirmation that the statements were made would establish that the officer was responding to orders. While that might not be a legal defence, it "would have the effect of diminishing, if not the criminal liability, the moral liability," Mr. Orkin said.
Under regulations, passed under the Courts of Justice Act, rules for the "request to admit" say its purpose is to "limit the issues at hearing by obtaining admissions as to facts and documents which otherwise would have to be proved and is a useful adjunct to the discovery process."
The rules also say that if the truth of certain facts is denied or refused to be admitted and those facts are subsequently proved, the court may take that into account in awarding legal costs.