In explosive testimony yesterday, former Ontario attorney-general Charles Harnick said he heard then-premier Mike Harris say he wanted the "fucking Indians" out of Ipperwash Provincial Park.
For the past decade, a crude comment attributed to Mr. Harris has become part of the mythology around the 1995 police shooting of aboriginal protester Dudley George. The inquiry has devoted considerable effort to tracking it down but, until yesterday, there has been no firsthand evidence that Mr. Harris had said such a thing.
In his second day of evidence before Commissioner Sidney Linden, Mr. Harnick testified about a Sept. 6 meeting in the then-premier's dining room. The meeting included the three cabinet ministers most concerned with the two-day-old occupation of the park, along with their deputy ministers and aides, as well as two OPP officers. It was just after noon -- less than 12 hours before a police sniper shot and killed the unarmed Mr. George -- and the meeting was already under way as Mr. Harnick arrived.
As he took his seat, Mr. Harnick testified, "the premier in a loud voice said: I want the fucking Indians out of the park." Then, he said, the room went quiet.
Mr. Harnick later testified that he believes that the premier "understood that was the wrong thing to have said. . . . His demeanour changed and he was quite philosophical, almost reserved."
Mr. Harris's lawyer, Peter Downard, told Mr. Harnick later during cross-examination that the former premier will testify "he does not recall saying anything like that in the meeting," and pointed out that eight other witnesses who were there have denied hearing such a comment.
"Does that give you any pause?" he asked Mr. Harnick.
"Do you know how difficult this has been for me?" the former attorney-general replied.
"I have nothing but admiration for the premier. . . . I have agonized over this."
Under oath last week, Harris aide Deb Hutton, who was seated near Mr. Harris during the meeting, firmly denied hearing him make any such comment.
"I heard what I heard," Mr. Harnick told Mr. Downard.
Other witnesses who have given evidence contrary to Mr. Harnick's include former deputy attorney-general Larry Taman, former deputy natural resources minister Ron Vrancart and several other Tory political staffers.
Mr. Taman, who testified two weeks ago, did not recall any obscene language, but said there was no mistaking Mr. Harris's intention.
"He firmly thought that the first nation should be removed from the park," the former assistant attorney-general said.
Also present were former solicitor-general Robert Runciman and former minister of natural resources Chris Hodgson.
They and Mr. Harris are to testify in January.
Mr. Harnick's testimony lends credibility to the evidence of Superintendent Ron Fox and his assistant, Inspector Scott Patrick, who were summoned to the meeting and both described Mr. Harris as upset by the OPP's failure to end the Ipperwash standoff.
Mr. Harnick told the inquiry he didn't hear who had spoken before the premier's outburst, but that afterward "there was a complete silence in the room."
Within seconds, he said, Mr. Harris broke the silence and, in a calm voice, said that once the occupiers were in the park, he didn't believe there was any way of getting them out."
Mr. Harnick said he felt relief at the change because he felt that this would mean approval for his ministry's recommendation that an injunction be sought -- as, in fact, happened.
"I certainly was stunned by the comment," said Mr. Harnick, who recalled exchanging looks with his deputy, Mr. Taman.
"I thought it was a wrong and inappropriate comment." It was "out of character," he added.
Mr. Harnick noted that the decision taken by the meeting -- to seek an injunction -- was "perfectly appropriate."
According to previous testimony, obtaining a court order obliging the protesters to leave the park would have taken several days.
Rumours that the premier used harsh language in a meeting about Ipperwash have circulated among aboriginal leaders for a decade.
The first account of a crude reference to aboriginals was relayed to Kettle and Stony Point Chief Tom Bressette on Sept. 6, 1995, in a phone call from Bob Watts, a former employee of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat, who suggested a warning be passed to the park occupiers.
Mr. Bressette, who did not support the occupation and was at odds with the group in the park, testified that he did not warn the occupiers personally because he did not think they would believe him, but he gave a radio interview to pass on an alert.
Police marched on the park that night. Mr. George was killed at about 11 p.m.