TORONTO — Ontario’s Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald issued a scathing rebuke to the provincial government, calling on officials to hold off on awarding former Premier Mike Harris the Order of Ontario and instead complete the work of the Ipperwash Inquiry.
On January 1, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell announced 25 new appointments to the Order, the province’s highest honour. Among those named are former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
Harris was the Progressive Conservative Ontario Premier of the mid-1990s who oversaw the 1995 Ipperwash crisis when Dudley George was shot dead by a police officer as First Nations protesters occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park.
During the inquiry into the Ipperwash shooting, former attorney-general of Ontario Charles Harnick along with several other witnesses testified that an irate Harris shouted “I want the fucking Indians out of the park” just a few hours before police raided Ipperwash Provincial Park.
George, 38, was shot and killed by police during the raid. OPP Sergeant Ken Deane was convicted of criminal negligence in his death. The public inquiry found that the OPP, Harris and the federal and provincial governments all bore responsibility for the events that led to George’s death.
Harris’ naming to the Order prompted Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald to issue a statement, rebuking the province for Harris’ appointment saying it has opened an unhealed wound for First Nations in the province.
“During the 1995 Ipperwash crisis, the events that took place revealed the embedded, systemic racism that runs within much of Canada. The Order of Ontario is intended to honour individuals whose exceptional achievements have left a lasting legacy in the province, in Canada, and beyond. This announcement is hurtful to First Nations in Ontario” said Archibald.
The Ipperwash inquiry resulted in 100 recommendations for Ontario to implement — direction on how to resolve land claims, indigenous policing and reconciliation with indigenous communities. First Nations leaders say that most of those recommendations have not been implemented by the province.
“A healing path is needed today,” said Archibald. “The Ipperwash Inquiry shed light on the instances that led up to Dudley George’s death and laid the foundation for a path to reconcile our differences; however, it was abandoned and, therefore, remains unfulfilled. It is important that collectively, First Nations and the Government of Ontario create a healing space where we can reconcile the painful moments from our shared history.”
Now, Archibald says that Harris’ award should be deferred and that the provincial government should instead come through on the recommendations resulting from the inquiry.
“First Nations have always been committed to peaceful sharing of the lands and wealth with settlers. To maintain good relations and prevent further instances like these from happening, I encourage the Ontario Government to take this opportunity to make our mutual dreams of safe, healthy and vibrant communities a reality.”