Heating Up Ipperwash

Rating: NNNNNmike harris may be gone, but for the provincial Tories the scandal surrounding the 1995 shooting death of.

Rating: NNNNN

mike harris may be gone, but for the provincial Tories the scandal surrounding the 1995 shooting death of native protestor Dudley George at Camp Ipperwash just got hotter.Now, a group of OPP officers from the unit sent in that fateful night to remove protestors from the park are circulating a petition calling for a full public inquiry into the incident. It was one of their own, Kenneth Deane, who shot George and was ultimately convicted of criminal negligence.

After losing an appeal of the decision, Deane was recently ordered to resign or be fired from the force. He’s appealed that decision to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Policing Services (OCCPS).

And it’s not clear whether the petition being circulated by his colleagues is part of an effort to help save Deane’s job when OCCPS convenes to decide his case or to push the Tories into coming clean on the behind-the-scenes dealings in the Ipperwash affair that seem to lead to the premier’s office.

The petition itself is being kept under wraps, and we don’t know who started it or the number who’ve signed.

That number is significant enough for the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA), the union representing OPP officers, to put the item on its agenda for consideration at its spring board meeting Monday (May 6).

The move is a switch for the Tory-friendly OPPA, whose president, Brian Adkin, has resisted calls for a public inquiry in the past.

Adkin now says the OPPA “had actually planned to consider the whole question (of an inquiry) before this (petition) started.

“Our members have been raising concerns. We as an association have concerns. There a number of unanswered questions.”

Chief among them is what role, if any, then-premier Harris played in ordering police to storm the park. Harris met with two OPP officers in the hours before George’s death.

But the rank and file, who’ve long viewed Deane as a scapegoat, have also been putting pressure on the OPPA leadership to change its tune.

The heat was turned up a notch recently when the internal tribunal that ordered Deane to quit or be fired ruled that his continued employment is damaging to the force’s reputation.

“The OPP, while they are guilty of many things in this case, are also bearing some of the blame that the government should be bearing,” says George family lawyer Murray Klippenstein. “Deane is guilty, but he’s also a scapegoat.”

All of which puts the Tories in a ticklish position, especially since the OPPA endorsed newly minted premier Ernie Eves during the leadership contest.

Eves was quoted recently as saying he wouldn’t “rule out” an inquiry — once the civil suit filed by the George family against Harris is dealt with.

It’s more than Eves was saying during the leadership campaign, when he didn’t bother to respond to a letter from the George family asking where he stood on the issue. But it’s still the party line.

Still, Klippenstein says Eves can’t continue avoiding calls for an inquiry — especially should the OPPA join the chorus. In a recent Oracle poll, 72 per cent of Ontario residents said they support an inquiry.

Klippenstein says, “This issue is not going to fall off the map just because Harris has slipped out the back door.”

The OPP’s senior ranks are also eager to clear the force’s name. “The OPP would cooperate fully,” says OPP spokesperson Rick Katlow.

Meanwhile, Chris McPherson, press secretary for Attorney General and Native Affairs Minister David Young, says, “There’s currently a well-advanced independent judicial inquiry into the matter in question,” namely discovery proceedings underway in the civil suit filed by the George family against Harris, so there’s no need for an inquiry.

Grit critic Gerry Phillips counters that “Thinking the civil case will answer all the questions is just nonsense.”

He says he welcomes OPP officers’ calls for an inquiry, because “there’s ample evidence of inappropriate government involvement into what was a police matter.”

George family members, on the other hand, are not so sure whether the OPPA’s musings about an inquiry are more about saving Deane’s job than getting to the bottom of what happened the night their brother Dudley died.

“Maybe the OPP are tired of being political pawns,” says Pierre George. “Maybe they want to clear some of this up (and) win back some of their credibility. I’m all for it. My only question is, Why are they doing a 360 now?” enzom@nowtoronto.com

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