Former Premier Mike Harris risked pressuring police on the night an unarmed Native protester was killed at Ipperwash in 1995, but did not directly interfere, according to the final report into the matter.
In a 1433-page report issued on Thursday morning, Commissioner Sidney Linden offered a scathing review of Ontario Provincial Police operations on the night 38-year-old Dudley George was shot at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
He apportions blame to federal and provincial governments as well as the OPP for the stand-off, and makes 98 recommendations that he hopes will help all peoples reach a path of healing.
Prime among them is a call to establish a stand-alone Aboriginal Affairs Ministry within the provincial cabinet, with adequate resources, and for the Federal Government to publicly apologize to the people of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation for failing to honour its promise to return its land.
He also urged the creation of a treaty commission of Ontario to settle land and treaty claims, an Aboriginal Reconciliation Fund, more federal involvement with land claim disputes, and new regulations under the Police Services Act to ensure all government directions are in writing and made public to the Commissioner.
Judge Linden calls for the OPP to make a public apology to Cecil Bergard George for the beating he sustained in the parking lot where Mr. George was fatally shot by police officer Ken Deane.
But in his report, Commissioner Linden says the matter goes well beyond Mr. Deane and the Inspector who sent him in at 11 p.m. along with a riot squad and other specialist officers.
The OPP as an institution also needs to be accountable and share responsibility for the tragedy, as does the Federal Government, he says.
"Unfortunately, the issues that were at the heart of the Ipperwash occupation remain unresolved by the federal government to this day. This inexcusable delay and long neglect, by successive federal governments, are at the heart of the Ipperwash story."
Politically, the hotbed that was Queens Park after the 1995 election played a substantial role in proceedings by Lake Huron that night.
Judge Linden found that Premier Mike Harris or someone in his office did convene a meeting on the evening of Sept. 6, 1995, commonly referred to as "the dining room meeting".
While he found that Mr. Harris did make the controversial comment that he "wanted the fucking Indians out of the park", he questions exactly when that comment was made.
It was Natural Resources Minister Chris Hodgson who said the same phrase the "dining room meeting", Commissioner Linden said.
The report also finds that Mr. Harris knew at least one person at the meeting was a seconded OPP officer, and that by the end of the meeting "Premier Harris had made it clear he wanted the occupiers out of the park as quickly as possible."
The Premier's comments in the dining room, and the speed at which he wanted a resolution, "unduly narrowed the scope of the government's response" and "closed off many options endorsed by civil servants," Judge Linden said.
And the Premier's push to have an immediate injunction and to remove the Indians from the park within 24 hours was inappropriate. "It is for the police to decide whether and when arrests will be made."
All of that "created the risk of placing political pressure on the police" when, in contrast, "the Premier could have urged patience, rather than speed".
But he concluded that the sum of those factors did not equate to political interference.
"In my view, although Premier Harris was critical of the police, I do not find that he interfered with or gave inappropriate directions to the police at Ipperwash," he wrote.
"The Premier did not inappropriately direct the OPP on its operations at Ipperwash or enter the law enforcement domain of the police."
The Commissioner confirms that the natives were unarmed, and that Premier Harris and Attorney-General Charles Harnick misled the legislature about the "dining room meeting".
The actions of the Ontario Provincial Police were viewed scathingly by Commissioner Linden, whose references to "critical failures" on the night of Dudley George's shooting are wearyingly regular.
Negotiators should have been called in first.
Crowd Management Unit should not have been deployed at night.
And, most importantly, the protesters should have been told that they were safe inside the fence. The police had no intention of entering the park.
"The CMU were busy yelling commands to each other when the officers should have been yelling these crucial messages to the Aboriginal people," Judge Linden wrote.
His criticisms hit upon many of the people mentioned during the Inquiry hearings, including the Premier's executive assistant Deb Hutton.
"Neither Deb Hutton nor Michael Harris fully appreciated at that time the power of the Premier and the Premier's office," he wrote.
"Regrettably, Ms. Hutton had little experience in Aboriginal issues, nor did she have a sound understanding of Aboriginal culture, section 35 of the Constitution, or concepts such as colour of right."
As for the land itself, the Commissioner said allowing the status quo to continue is not in anyone's interest.
Among the possibilities they could consider, he says, is the reopening of Ipperwash Park under the management of the Kettle Point and Stony Point communities, "for the benefit of all Ontarians and visitors alike."