Sep 17/98: Ipperwash incident records missing


The Globe and Mail
September 17, 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.]

Computer records compiled by a police officer who helped plan the provincial government's response to the native occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park have been purged, according to a sworn affidavit by the province's deputy solicitor-general. The missing records are the first official indication that documents about Ipperwash, where a native protester was shot dead by police three years ago, may no longer be available. The electronic files, compiled by Ontario Provincial Police Superintendent Ron Fox, were sought by the Globe and Mail under the Freedom of Information Act.

But deputy solicitor-general Tim Millard said in an affidavit that Supt. Fox's standing on the government's computer system was eliminated in April of 1996, when he transferred jobs, and arrangements were made for his computer records to be given to his replacement. However, when the computer folders were opened, nothing was in them, Mr. Millard said. "Efforts by staff of Information and Technology Division to retrieve any records which may have been located in the folders were unsuccessful," he said. Mr. Millard was ordered to make a sworn statement by the Province's Privacy Commissioner after an appeal by The Globe for the Ipperwash records compiled by Supt. Fox.

At the time of the occupation, Supt. Fox was on assignment as special adviser on first nations for a former deputy solicitor-general. In his affidavit to the Privacy Commissioner, Supt. Fox said that when he changed jobs to return to the OPP, he was "generally aware that the intention was to have my computer information transferred to [his replacement's] computer and there were some technical difficulties in doing so... "I am not aware of any destruction of documentary material related to Ipperwash and did not destroy or participate in any such destruction of Ipperwash material," Supt. Fox said. Supt. Fox's computer and its hard drive were declared surplus and returned to the leasing company in February of 1997, according to Mr. Millard's affidavit.

Liberal MPP Gerry Philips said in an interview that steps should have been taken by the Solicitor-General's Ministry to safeguard the computer files because they might be evidence for the criminal charges and lawsuits prompted by the shooting. "When they know something this serious has happened and they know that investigations were underway...steps should have been taken to make sure that there couldn't be any accusation that files were missing," he said. "I think somebody has got to answer for why those essential files were allowed to be purged." According to Mr. Millard's affidavit, the ministry keeps information only for 30 days in its backup systems used to store computer data.

Natives occupied Ipperwash on Sept. 4 just after the Labour Day weekend in 1995, contending the area contained a burial ground. Two days later, members of an OPP tactical squad killed Dudley George, one of the protesters. The killing is believed to be the first of a native at a land-claim dispute this century in Canada. The shooting has led to a civil suit by relatives of Mr. George against Premier Mike Harris and other cabinet ministers and to calls from opposition politicians for an inquiry to determine if government officials interfered in police actions at the park. The Ontario government has had a long-standing policy of trying to resolve native occupations through negotiations, but the OPP quickly resorted to force at Ipperwash, the first major incident involving natives following the election of the Progressive Conservatives in June of 1995.

Although Supt. Fox was a major participant in the Ipperwash incident, the Solicitor-General's Ministry initially said it could find only three pages of records pertaining to the officer under the Globe's FOI request. The paper appealed for all of Supt. Fox's records, including those maintained on his computer. After an appeal to the Privacy Commissioner, the ministry located about 200 additional pages and released a heavily censored version of these records. The last portion of Supt. Fox's written records were released earlier this week, but about half the approximately 85 pages were blank. The ministry said disclosure of the records "could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the financial interest of the government of Ontario to manage the economy of Ontario."

It also said Supt. Fox's records couldn't be released in their entirety because they would reveal cabinet deliberations and advice by civil servants, undermine intergovernmental relations, and be an unjustified invasion of personal privacy, among other things.

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