Jun 23/98: Ministry told to look harder for Ipperwash docs


Globe and Mail
June 23, 1998, p. A7
Martin Mittelstaedt

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Ontario's Privacy Commissioner has ordered the Solicitor General's Office to search again for documents compiled by a senior police officer involved in the government's response to native occupiers at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. The commissioner has also told deputy solicitor-general Tim Millard to issue a sworn affidavit by July 3 showing compliance with the order. It is the first time the commissioner has demanded any deputy minister issue a sworn affidavit. The documents, from Ontario Provincial Police Superintendent Ron Fox, were sought by the Globe and Mail under a Freedom of Information Act request.

At the time of the Ipperwash incident, Mr. Fox was a special adviser on native people in the deputy solicitor general's office. The Privacy Commissioner said in a ruling dated last Friday that the government's effort to locate Supt. Fox's records" was not reasonable." Supt. Fox was a key participant in a committee of government officials who planned the province's response to the native occupation, which led to the fatal shooting by an OPP officer of Dudley George, a protester. The shooting has raised questions about why the police adopted such a violent response to the occupation and whether there was political interference in the OPP's conduct. Premier Mike Harris has denied political interference.

The Globe and Mail filed a Freedom of Information Act request a year ago for all records Supt. Fox produced or received during the occupation crisis including E-mails, facsimiles and hand-written notes. The ministry initially said it could locate only one document from Supt. Fox, and then refused to release it. The ministry later found another document. Both documents were eventually released through negotiations with the Privacy Commissioner, but portions were censored. Although Supt. Fox worked for the deputy minister at the time of the occupation, he has since returned to the OPP. In the ruling, the commissioner indicated that Supt. Fox had provided a sworn affidavit in which he indicated that when he left the deputy miniter's office, "he left behind all hard copy and electronic documents generated or received by him regarding the Ipperwash incident without retaining copies."

The commissioner criticized the affidavit because it didn't outline Supt. Fox's recollection of the records he compiled during the period and because the ministry didn't fully explain what happened to the documents. Under the ruling, Mr. Millard must provide an explanation as part of his sworn affidavit. "If the deputy minister is of the view that responsive records existed, but no longer exist, the affidavit should also include details of why any such records were destroyed," the ruling said. Supt. Fox has also been ordered to provide another sworn affidavit outlining his role and participation in events surrounding the park occupation, including an outline of the records he compiled and details of their fate.

The ministry told the commissioner that part of the problem it encountered in fulfilling the information request is that it moved offices since the Ipperwash crisis and had a lot of records to keep track of. According to the Privacy Commissioners' ruling, the ministry also stated "that is conducted an unsuccessful search of its backup systems in an attempt to locate responsive E-mail messages. It also states, without providing details, that 'it is possible that some records existed, but no longer exist.'"

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