The government of Canada has mismanaged native affairs in several different ways including how they have been policed. There have been a few controversial incidents in recent history where native protests have become violent and it can be argued that police made mistakes in an effort to maintain peace. These incidents include the Oka Crisis, the Dudley George shooting and the Caledonia land claim dispute. The Oka Crisis took place during the summer of 1990. It was a land claim dispute between the Mohawk nation and the town of Oka Quebec. The protest resulted in one police officer dead and many others injured.
The second incident occurred in September of 1995 and was dubbed the Ipperwash Crisis and resulted in the shooting death of native protester Dudley George. This was yet another land claim dispute that became a violent clash between the Police and Natives. Currently there is an ongoing land claim dispute in Caledonia that at times has become violent. These violent situations could have been avoided if better policy from the government. The Oka Crisis took place over the summer of 1990. The conflict arose because of a planned expansion of the Oka Golf Club.
The land planned on being used to expand the course in what the Mohawk nation referred to as the Pines (Winegard 2008, iv). Mohawk nation believed the land belonged to them as it was used as a burial ground for members that had passed away. Members of the Mohawk nation began to protest interrupting work that was taking place on the Pines. On July 11th the SQ (Surete du Quebec) Quebec’s police force conducted operation DORE 90-4 a plan to remove the protesters (Winegard 2008, 107). The SQ would discover that The Mohawks were armed as Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot and killed. The question is who is responsible for this death.
Confrontations with natives are very sensitive issues. There has been a long history of distrust between the Native society and the rest of Canada. Since European contact most people would agree that it has had a negative impact on the native society. Ultimately the SQ is on the side of the government and have to follow the orders and policy they are given. “Lemay was killed by a projectile fired from a weapon in possession of one of four Mohawks”(Winegard 2008, 108). Not only was an officer killed but also the whole raid turned into an absolute farce. “The SQ unprepared for and staggered by the violence and resistance, retreated down Highway 44to the village of Oka” (Winegard 2008, 109). The SQ made an error in raiding the disputed land without being prepared. They were taking on radical natives willing to do anything to protect the land. The SQ underestimated what they were up against thus hanging their officers out to dry vulnerable to violent resistance (Winegard 2008, 108). Although some violence was inevitable because of “the Warrior Society” it could have been greatly reduced with better strategy to resolve the conflict. It was irresponsible of the SQ because their actions led to an increase in violence instead of restoring order.
In early September 1995 another violent confrontation erupted at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. This conflict was the result of a land claims protest by the Natives of the Kettle Point Indian Reserve. Ipperwash Provincial Park was land seized by the government in 1942 under the War Measures Act (Edwards 2001, 48). The government did not return the land back to the natives when the war ended. This angered the natives who inhabited the land they were also very upset because on that land was a burial ground for many of their ancestors.
It was in September 5th 1995 when a group of 30 protesters built barricades at the park to show their disapproval of the destruction of the burial ground and reclaim the land. The OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) then acted to remove the protesters from the park. The violent confrontation was highlighted by the death of protester Dudley George who was shot in the chest by Sergeant Ken Deane. So who is to blame for yet another death that occurred during a clash between the Police and natives? This time it was different though because it was a death on the natives side.
Sgt Deane was the officer who committed the act but explained later that he was just doing his job as he thought Dudley George was armed which in fact he was only carrying a twig (Edwards 2001, 125). Sgt Deane would end up being found criminally negligent. Again this horrific incident could have been prevented with better policy. Mike Harris was the newly elected Conservative Premiere when Dudley George was killed. Controversy surrounded the whole incident many would argue the provincial government acted in a racist manor towards the Natives.
There were even allegations that Premier Harris said, “I want the fucking Indians out of the Park” during one meeting. Harris flatly denied making the comments but many would agree it was an attempt to deflect the blame. In this case it is possible that the government and OPP overreacted because of what happened during the Oka Crisis. It was seen as a national embarrassment and Harris was not going to be caught looking weak. In November of 2003 when the Liberals came to power newly elected Premiere Dalton McGuinty called for a public inquiry of the Ipperwash Crisis.
Commissioner of the inquiry Sydney Linden “ruled in 2007 that the OPP, the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris and the federal government all bear responsibility for the events that led to his death”. This ruling shows the police should only bear partial responsibility in the killing of Dudley George. An OPP officer made a crucial error resulting in death but the blame is also shared by the provincial and federal governments because of irresponsible policy that deal with native affairs.
A more current land claim dispute has led to more violent confrontations between the police and natives. The Grand River land dispute in Caledonia Ontario has been on going since February 2006. The dispute is over land planned for a new housing development named the Douglas Creek Estates. This dispute has not been named a crisis but protests have become violent many times. This dispute has many non-natives Caledonia residents upset because many had already purchased homes to be built on the land. On June 9th 2006 a very violent altercation took place when protesters swarmed a U.
S. border patrol car removed the officers inside and was driven directly towards and OPP officer narrowly missing him as he was pulled to safety. During the incident confidential OPP documents were stolen. This dispute has been violent and there have been injuries but no death has resulted and it shows there has been improvement in policy when dealing with natives. Julian Fantino the OPP commissioner said their job was “to preserve the peace, deal with offences and bring those who transgress the laws of the land to justice”.
In this situation the OPP is only trying to do the right thing by keeping the peace. Unlike the Ipperwash Crisis the OPP is not trying to resolve the issue. Land claims are to be resolved by the government by peaceful and fair negotiation. It is when the Protests get carried away and breech public safety that the OPP get involved to diffuse the problem like they would for any other problem. The three confrontations outlined show the difficulty the police face when dealing with altercations with Natives. Government interference has gotten in the way especially during the Ipperwash Crisis. A core of policing functions should be by and large removed from government interference, but the government should have a large monitoring role (especially in relation to policy-laden operations), and should play an active role in developing and implementing policing policies” (Christie 2007, 20). This was taken from a paper that was commissioned by the Ipperwash inquiry. Police need to be independent when carrying out their job at the same time they need to work with government to develop efficient and fair policy.
There is always going to be violent confrontations between the police and natives. When natives break laws the police must do their job. The need is for the elimination of permanent damage when these conflicts occur. One would agree that progress has been made in the way police have dealt with the native protests since Corporal Marcel Lemay and Dudley George have been killed. The confrontations will always exist until the all land claims can be settled between natives and the government. The police need to maintain order in a way that is non-discriminatory to all peoples.