PART 1: Race-based Policing in Ipperwash

by Mark Vandermaas, Mary-Lou LaPratte and Gary McHale

February 18, 2009

The Regional

On the sandy roads and beautiful Lake Huron beaches of Ipperwash, 35 kilometres north of Sarnia, Ontario there are few signs of the turmoil that once ripped apart an entire community and set others on a collision course with land claim anarchy thanks to a public inquiry that wasn’t.

Imagine if a future government invested $20 Million and three years on an inquiry into the Caledonia crisis, but refused to allow a single resident to testify, and deliberately excluded every shred of evidence of crimes against them by native protesters. What if this inquiry was then used to hold natives blameless and justify a 'hands off' policy against land claim lawlessness in other Ontario towns? This is the legacy of Premier McGuinty's Ipperwash Inquiry.

On March 14, 2007, two and a half months prior to release of the Inquiry’s report, with the assistance of MPP Toby Barrett, the authors held a news conference in the Queen’s Park Media Studio to release their Ipperwash Papers project – 400 pages of documents showing how residents of Ipperwash were victimized by land claim lawlessness, government inaction and racial policing.  Afterwards, they provided McGuinty and leaders of the Opposition with a press kit summarizing the Inquiry’s failures.

The Ipperwash Papers show that the OPP, Provincial and Federal governments allowed race-based policing to exist long before the shooting of Dudley George, and that it was the root cause of both his death and the community’s suffering since 1992.  The authors correctly predicted that the yet-to-be-released Inquiry report could never make a single credible recommendation for preventing violence against residents because the Inquiry never allowed the issue to be explored.

The Ipperwash saga began in 1942 when land was expropriated from natives for a military base. $50,000 was paid, and families were relocated to a nearby reserve. An additional $2.5 million was paid in 1981 with a promise the land would be returned when no longer needed. Tired of waiting, natives occupied part of Camp Ipperwash in May 1993, but were not evicted even after a helicopter was shot. In February 1994, the federal government agreed to return the base. On July 29, 1995 native children were used to crash a bus through the main gate as decoys during a violent takeover of the entire base. Military personnel were cited for protecting “life and property” during the evacuation. The adjacent provincial park was occupied September 4th. During a confrontation with natives two days later OPP officers, believing they had taken fire, shot and killed Dudley George.

Victimization of residents began in earnest with a land claim filed against their homes in 1992. Former Ipperwash community leader Mary-Lou LaPratte recounts, “As soon as the occupations and land claim on the West Beach started we noticed a disturbing OPP policy evolving. Natives coming off the occupied lands into surrounding areas to harass, threaten, intimidate, steal from, or assault innocent homeowners and tourists, were exempt from criminal charges upon reaching the safe haven of the disputed land. In the West Beach land claim, which was going through a court process, a native anywhere on the properties, for any reason, would not be charged. Our lives became a daily nightmare of threats, intimidation, and harassment tactics which, over the years, became home invasions and physical assaults.” LaPratte herself was a victim of a 2 a.m. home invasion. When her husband called the OPP he was asked if the intruder was native whereupon he was instructed not to touch the man or face arrest.

In May 1994, the Sarnia Observer published an editorial, ‘Police must enforce laws’ stating, “Regardless of any land claim, natives must obey the law. They simply cannot be allowed to do as they please…” Within sixteen months, natives had launched their violent takeover of Camp Ipperwash, Dudley George was dead and terrified residents were abandoned for weeks by the OPP who pulled out to a distance of 6-10 km for fear of native retaliation, leaving residents and the unsecured shooting scene under control of native occupiers.

The OPP eventually returned, but residents complained bitterly to provincial and federal governments about the lack of OPP protection against rampant native crime. Elected officials wrote back saying it was the responsibility of the OPP to enforce the law. The correspondence offers startling insight into how utterly paralyzed the Canadian democratic system can become when police refuse to do so.

In 1996, hundreds of residents wrote victim impact statements to Federal Liaison Robert Reid who held a position similar to that of David Crombie in Caledonia. The Ipperwash Papers includes thirty-three letters, one of which was written by the town’s Chief Administrative Officer blaming the Department of National Defence for George's death:

“DND, through it [sic] failure to remove illegal occupiers, failure to permit the law to be upheld, failure to protect its boundaries, failure to ensure safety at one of its military facilities and ultimate retreat from and desertion of Camp Ipperwash in the middle of the night has created a situation that led to the death of at least one individual, the takeover and destruction of public property, terrorizing of a municipality, destruction of property values, and the tearing apart of a community and its way of life.

“Repeatedly, over the two years preceding the fatal shooting of Dudley George, town officials advised provincial and federal government cabinet ministers, politicians and bureaucrats of the real potential for injury and death in the area. Unfortunately, unless real progress towards a solution commences immediately, we feel that more injuries and deaths will occur.”

In 1998 eight natives beat a man to unconsciousness leaving him with permanent damage to his hand. A witness had to call 911 seven times before OPP responded. In 2002 and again in 2005, pieces of two human bodies were found in areas controlled by native occupiers.

The Ipperwash Inquiry, called by McGuinty following his win over Mike Harris’ Conservatives in October 2003, was given a mandate to “inquire and report on events surrounding the death of Dudley George” and “to make recommendations that would avoid violence in similar circumstances in the future.” Ipperwash residents were hopeful it would examine the lawlessness they had endured so the people of Ontario – especially those living in Caledonia - could understand the terrible dangers of race-based policing. 

Their hope was badly misplaced.

Next week – Part 2: How the Ipperwash Inquiry suppressed evidence and put Ontario communities on a collision course with anarchy   

The Ipperwash Papers documents can be found at