A packed Ontario
courtroom exploded in cheers in late April as a judge proclaimed Provincial Police Sgt. Kenneth Deane responsible for the death of Anthony "Dudley" George, an unarmed Native man protesting for the return of ancestral land.
Immediately after the word "guilty" left Judge Hugh Fraser's lips on April 28, many of the George family and their supporters jumped to their feet to hug and raise their fists. The surprise and joy, however, soon gave way to sobs and tears -- tears shared with family and friends of Deane who sat just across the aisle.
The charge of criminal negligence causing death stemmed from a brutal late-night clash on Sept. 6, 1995, between Natives and an OPP riot squad and elite paramilitary unit led by Deane.
In his ruling, Judge Fraser said he rejected Deane's testimony that he shot at an armed man preparing to fire on his fellow officers. The judge found Deane knew Dudley George was unarmed and then "concocted a story ... in an ill-fated attempt to disguise the fact that an unarmed man was shot." He also rejected testimony from two other officers, deeming it "fabricated."
death of Dudley George followed two days of protests by 24 members of the Stoney Point tribe, contesting Ipperwash Provincial Park, located on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, about 100 miles
northeast of Detroit. Protesters occupied the park as it was closing
for the season, saying it was built over a sacred burial ground.
Canadian government documentation released days after George's shooting supported
the Stoney Pointers' claim.
The night Dudley George was shot and killed by a bullet fired from Deane's semi-automatic assault rifle, the 38-year old Native man was continuing his father's quest to return Ipperwash-area lands to the Stoney Point people. Next to the park is Camp Ipperwash, a Canadian military base which was reoccupied by Stoney Point descendants and former settlers, including Dudley George, in 1993. The Canadian army appropriated their land in 1942 to build a training base with the promise it would be returned after World War II.
In 1995, a half-century after the war ended, the remaining military personnel -- a handful of police and maintenance people -- were forced off by Stoney Point protesters. Negotiations are underway to formally transfer the land to the officially-recognized Kettle and Stoney Point band, formed after the army pushed the Stoney Pointers onto the nearby Kettle Point reserve during the war. However, legal representatives for the Stoney Pointers are also sitting at the negotiation table.
A major condition demanded by all Native people involved is a thorough environmental assessment and clean up paid for by the Canadian government. Although the camp was most recently a summer getaway for officers and cadets, it long had shooting ranges. There are also rumors -- at least one coming from an unnamed former serviceman -- that toxic waste is buried on the grounds.
Dudley George is the first Canadian Native to be killed this century in a land claim dispute. The park, with a memorial to Dudley built close to where he was shot, remains in Stoney Point hands and closed to the public.
was tight during Deane's trial, with all visitors frisked by local police and searched. Members of Deane's
paramilitary unit, looking much like U.S. secret service agents in
their dark suits and sunglasses, escorted the 12-year OPP veteran to
and from the courtroom and the courthouse.
At least six of these officers sat near Judge Fraser's bench, keeping a close eye on spectators. Periodically they would talk into their sleeves, presumably radioing their observation to one another or to some nearby communications post. Outside the courtroom, OPP officers in casual clothes and outfitted with radio gear kept watch over the lobby.
On the day of Deane's verdict, police officers were on the roof of the court building, although there were no incidents during the three-week trial that required police intervention. Most visitors to the courtroom -- including supporters of the George family and of Deane -- were keenly quiet, listening intently to the drama of that infamous late summer night unfolding before them.
at the beginning of his trial that he
shot Dudley George, but did so because he saw George aiming a rifle
at police officers. This contradicted testimony from all Native
witnesses who said none of the protesters, including Dudley George,
were armed that night.
Sgt. Deane told the court that before the 10:45 PM advance on the protesters, he and seven members of an OPP Tactics and Rescue Unit were told by superiors at a make-shift command centre near the park that the Natives were armed with AK-47s, rifles with scopes and Molotov cocktails. With that information, Deane's team flanked a 32-man OPP crowd management unit (CMU) which marched in formation down a poorly lit road toward the park's west entrance. Deane said his team's duty was to observe and provide cover for the CMU members.
Under cross examination, Ontario Crown prosecutor Ian Scott suggested Deane didn't believe the Natives were armed, otherwise he would never have allowed the CMU team to march on an open roadway into the line of fire. Deane admitted a volley of automatic gunfire would have killed at least 10 officers before his team could have responded.
In fact, the court heard none of the 40 officers involved in the confrontation or their equipment were hit with gunfire, nor did investigators find any evidence that the protesters were armed. Sgt. Hebblethwaite, second in command of the CMU team, testified he was not told the Natives had automatic weapons. In his final argument. Scott labeled the CMU's march on the park "the Canadian equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade," if it were to be believed the Natives were armed.
Crowd management officers told Judge Fraser they were outfitted in helmets and protective padding and were carrying plastic shields, batons and sidearms. According to testimony, their order was to push a group of about 20 Natives from the public intersection by the park's west entrance back into the park. Earlier that evening, police received a complaint about a disturbance at the intersection between Stoney Point protesters and someone in a vehicle.
Police and Natives testified they had a violent confrontation outside the park that night. This started after Native protestors retreated behind a park fence upon seeing the marching police officers approach them. Both sides also agreed that Natives threw rocks, sticks and flaming sticks at police when CMU officers approached the fence, banging their shields with batons.
Police witnesses told the court the Natives jumped the fence and attacked them with bats and poles after police arrested one of the protesters who came at them. But Native witnesses said they attacked police after seeing officers beat Bernard George, a Kettle and Stoney Point band councilor (no relation to Dudley George), who came to the park that evening to warn protesters about a possible police advance.
Bernard had approached police to tell them they had no right to be there. Entered into evidence were photos of the 28 cuts and bruises he received that night. The court also heard that he was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. However, none of the officers called to testify could recall seeing him being beaten, or recalled striking him. Bernard George has filed a civil suit against the OPP.
When the CMU team started to retreat from the intersection with Bernard George, a school bus and a car left the park and came at police. Deane said he saw muzzle flashes -- the light of gunfire -- from inside the bus. Many of the officers jumped to either side of the two-lane road to avoid being hit. Some of them fired at the vehicles, said police witnesses, fearing they may make another run at police.
Deane testified it was during this time that he saw muzzle flashes aimed at police coming from a sandy berm near the park. He told the court he fired four shots toward the berm. He then saw Dudley George -- although he didn't know the person's identity at the time -- run from the area where he saw the muzzle flashes to the middle of the intersection. There he saw Dudley George drop to a crouched position and aim a rifle at police.
In response, Deane said he fired three shots at Dudley George. He saw George falter, go down on one knee, then get up again. George then crossed the road away from the park, moving closer to the retreating officers, and threw his rifle toward a grassy field. From there, Deane said he saw Dudley George return to the site where he was shot where other protesters helped him back into the park.
report on Dudley George showed that the fatal bullet
shattered his collarbone then punctured one of his lungs and broke
two of his ribs before stopping near his spine. Sgt. Hebblethwaite
told court the most serious injury suffered by police that night was
a sprained knee.
But despite Deane's detailed recollection of the shooting, Judge Fraser said he instead relied heavily on testimony from Hebblethwaite, who was standing several yards behind Deane at the time. Hebblethwaite said he saw Dudley George carrying a stick or pole, not a gun, and that he did not consider him a threat. He also said he didn't see any muzzle flashes, nor did he see any Native protestors with arms.
In his ruling, Judge Fraser listed several other points in the defense's argument that he did not believe, including:
Crown prosecutor Ian Scott called Dudley's siblings Sam and Carolyn George to give victim impact statements to the court. Also called to testify was Ovide Mercredi, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Chief Mercredi told the court the shooting has set back Native and police relations in Canada by 10 years. He also said politicians must stop using police to quell Native right to peaceful civil disobedience, and instead rely on negotiated settlements involving all related parties -- including the police.
Deane's sentencing hearing has been adjourned until July 2 and 3 for final arguments. He faces a maximum penalty of life in jail.
family is pleased with the verdict, but say it is only one
piece of a conspiratorial puzzle that includes the Ontario
government. Since the shooting, the family has asked for a public
inquiry into the Ontario government's role in sending heavily armed
police to confront the unarmed protesters. They say Ontario Premier
Mike Harris, who was elected June 1995 on a neo-conservative
platform, wanted to show he was taking a tough stand with Native
protesters. The previous government had relied on a patient,
"The trial put the spotlight on Sgt. Deane, but people at Queen's Park (the Ontario legislature in Toronto) who are really responsible for Dudley's death are still in the shadows," said Sam George, who with four of his seven siblings has filed a wrongful death suit against the government, police, and others.
Premier Harris has denied any involvement with OPP operations at Ipperwash and says he won't consider calling an inquiry until all related criminal and civil proceedings are completed. Yet government minutes obtained by Southam News earlier this year reveal that the Harris government told the OPP the day before the shooting to get the protesters out of the park "ASAP" and gave the OPP "the discrection as to how to proceed with removing the Stoney Pointers from the Park."
Critics knocking Premier Harris for his refusal to hold an inquiry include Amnesty International. In its recently released annual report, AI cited the Ontario government for its handling of the Ipperwash occupation and said circumstances surrounding the shooting suggest Dudley George "may have been extrajudicially (illegally) executed" by the OPP.
Amnesty's suspicion of a planned killing supports statements made by several Natives to investigators that officers told Dudley that he would be the first one shot. Amnesty officials say they also support the call for an independent inquiry.
The day after the Amnesty report was released, June 18, Sam George and his siblings' lawyers held a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital, to comment on the report and ask the federal government to call an inquiry. "It seems crazy that Dudley's death has to become a worldwide issue. It should be possible to find justice in Ontario and Canada," said Sam George.
Minutes after Deane was ruled guilty, OPP Commissioner Thomas O'Grady said the OPP would cooperate with an inquiry if it is called. He added that Premier Harris's office didn't pressure police to confront the protesters and that he "respects" the decisions made by OPP commanders at Ipperwash. "It's easy to look back," said the commissioner, in defense of his officers.
Albion Monitor June 28, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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