From Parliament Hill to the national headlines, RCMP are facing constant scrutiny with accusations of systemic racism.
MPs miss the point. This is a policing issue, not one limited to the Mounties. Much of Canada is policed by municipal forces or, in the case of Ontario, a provincial force.
The vast majority of cops are ethical, decent individuals, but it’s up to those individuals to report and stand up to abuse, excessive force and racism when they witness it by their colleagues.
The worst example of racist cops in my lifetime, which nobody wants to talk about, was by the Ontario Provincial Police on Sept. 4, 1995 when a cop shot Dudley George, an unarmed native protester at Ipperwash Provincial Park, not far from London, Ont.
First Nation protesters — unable to
negotiate peacefully with the provincial government for years — demanded a section of land be returned to them which they loaned the government in 1942 as part of the war effort. The government of the day had promised to return the land once the war ended.
Apparently, the provincial government didn’t realize the Second World War had been over for more than 50 years. Frustrated, protesters occupied the park site and a SWAT team was sent late at night to confront them. That was a huge mistake and tensions escalated with the shooting of a 38-year-old First Nation man.
During a public inquiry staged in 2006, it was determined by Justice Sidney B. Linton that Premier Mike Harris in conversation referred to protesters as
“f—ing Indians,” a statement Harris denies but was verified by his attorney general.
During her testimony, former Harris aide Deb Hutton used the words “I don’t recall” a total of 134 times in her testimony.
Most offensive, the cops at command central produced souvenir coffee mugs and T-shirts which read, “Team Ipperwash ’95” with an arrow and white feather (the symbol of a fallen warrior) through the OPP shoulder patch (Globe and Mail, May 11, 2006).
An audio tape also surfaced with two investigating constables joking that they’d bait a trap for the First Nation protesters using a case of beer (Aboriginal Multi-Media Society, July 2005).
So where are they now?
Kenneth Deane, the cop who delivered the fatal gunshot wound to Dudley George, was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to two years house arrest. He later resigned from the OPP. An apology was
issued to the George family — six years after the shooting. Deane never testified at the inquiry because he was killed in an automobile accident just weeks before he was scheduled to appear.
As far as we know, none of the cops at command central lost their jobs or were even disciplined. A teacher, health-care professional, journalist, doctor and many other professionals would have lost their job and never been hired elsewhere. These officers were racist thugs and got away with it.
The provincial government granted the George family a public inquiry . Witnesses were all put in an uncomfortable situation on the stand. Some embarrassed themselves at the hands of skilled lawyers, but there were no major consequences to anyone, police or politicians.
Ipperwash had nothing to do with the Mounties, but they’re the ones being singled out for systemic racism. Sensitivity training and crisis management, if necessary, must extend to all police forces in Canada.
The Ipperwash crisis was 25 years ago. It should have been a turning point in policing, its culture, the training and how it deals with First Nation, women and minorities. Obviously, nobody learned anything from Ipperwash and very little has changed.
James Miller is managing editor of The Penticton Herald. To contact the writer: email@example.com.