Lawyer Murray Klippenstein, who represents the family of aboriginal protestor Dudley George, joined us for an online discussion Thursday at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss the Ipperwash Inquiry report and to take your questions.
Questions and answers appear at the bottom of this page.
Mr. Klippenstein is the principal of the firm Klippensteins. He is a litigation and organizational lawyer representing mainly Aboriginal governments, public interest environmental groups, non-profit housing co-operatives, and various other non-profit and community organizations.
Mr. Klippenstein is counsel for the family of Dudley George, who sued the province, the OPP, and former Premier Mike Harris personally to uncover the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Mr. George at Ipperwash Provincial Park, eventually resulting in the public judicial inquiry.
Mr. Klippenstein has also represented the Cree of Mushkegowuk Council of James Bay on various matters, including their successful constitutional challenge to the imposition of the province's workfare program on First Nations. Mr. Klippenstein regularly represents Pollution Probe in hearings at the Ontario Energy Board as well.
Mr. Klippenstein is a graduate of the University of Toronto law school, a former and founding director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, and a past president of Environmental Defence Canada.
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Brodie Fenlon, globeandmail.com: Thank you for joining us today on what is no doubt a very busy and significant day for you and your clients. I'd like to start by getting your immediate reaction to Justice Linden's report.
Murray Klippenstein: We think it's good. It's actually very, very good.
Steve Courchene from Canada writes: Despite the comments and actions by Mr. Harris, the report excuses him from any wrongdoing. Do you agree that Mr. Harris was passive in the actions that led to the death of Mr. George?
Murray Klippenstein: I don't think the report excuses Premier Harris from any wrongdoing at all. The report does say he did not cross the line and give direction to the police. However, the report says he misled the Legislature for years, he forcefully put out an explosive racist comment in a key government meeting, he gave the appearance of political interference, and by his attitude of advocating rapid removal of native protesters, he closed off options of negotiation and communication which could have resolved the issue peacefully.
Violet Eichhorn from USA Canada writes: What did the First Nation Ipperwash have to do with Canada's War Measures Act? What right did Canada have in confiscating or to encroach on First Nations' land for the war? What about compensation for the displaced families? For the death of their loved one? First Nations land is protected under the Treaties with the Crown, our treaties are not with the Canadian government but with the Crown. And in my eyes that was an illegal trespass/breach of the land treaty by the Canadian government and it's military.
Murray Klippenstein: I think you are right that the expropriation under the War Measures Act broke the treaty. In Canada's history, it has been very, very common for the government to take pieces of land that had been guaranteed to natives in perpetuity by Treaty agreement. Sometimes the land was taken by expropriation, sometimes by rigged community votes under pressure from Indian Agents, and sometimes by swindles. Often the question is what would justice require to help make it right. Too often, the government is willing to offer money and only money. Usually, the government wants to avoid giving the land back as promised. That is the situation at Ipperwash Park.
David Guy from Toronto Canada writes: Mr. Klippenstein, first of all, thanks for taking the time to talk with us on what I'm sure is a busy day for you. I wanted to ask about one aspect of the lengthy land claims negotiation process. There are certainly issues on both sides, but I understand one of the things frustrating government negotiators is the Native insistence that they get consensus from many of their people before making decisions. Is this correct and how can decisions be made in this environment?
Murray Klippenstein: You put your finger on a key issue - on both sides. First Nation communities value consensus - you could call it respect for others' opinions - more highly than non-native governments. We non-natives like majority rule - the minority loses, it's as simple as that. A lot of people think a consensus approach is fairer. But it often takes longer. If you flip it over, First Nations often feel they suffer from non-native governments' way of doing things. The Canadian federal/provincial split of powers is an example. First Nations have suffered countless decades - or centuries - of delay in negotiations when each level of non-native government points the finger to the other. Natives can rightly say: "we didn't invent your jurisdictional split, why must it stall us for decades?"
Chris E. from Canada writes: I was under the impression that Dudley George was just a harmless man who was incited to participate in a riot which resulted in his death. The story goes that the 'leaders' behind the Ipperwash occupation encouraged Dudley and others to participate in violent and provocative actions directed at police. These aboriginal 'leaders' should be held accountable for their role in Dudley's death.
Murray Klippenstein: Dudley believed in his heart in what he did, that seemed clear from his actions. He moved on to his ancestral lands when there were no facilities, and lived there through several harsh winters, without electricity or any other "basics". Nobody "incited" him to do that - he just felt he "had to go home". As to violent or provocative actions, there are a couple of ways of looking at it. Yes, Dudley gave a finger to police officers and mooned them. But when you factor into the equation that non-natives had taken away land that the non-native governments had solemnly promised them as theirs to keep, over a hundred years ago, and wouldn't return it for decades when almost everyone knew that was wrong - well, mooning police is a pretty mild reaction.
Sandy Liang from New York United States writes: Mr. Klippenstein, did you feel the CTV made-for-TV movie One Dead Indian accurately portray the events during and after Ipperwash, and did the actor who played you in the movie do a good job?
Murray Klippenstein: We think the movie accurately portrayed the Ipperwash events, especially at an emotional level. The actor who played me did a great job. He is not as handsome and charming as me, although my family disagrees on that.
James Corbett from Hamilton Canada writes: I believe that the majority of Canadians is becoming more sensitive to aboriginal land claims and cultural concerns. I also believe this to be right and proper. However, I also very strongly believe that we should all be ruled by the law. The law can sometimes be unfair or biased, but it is always what defines us a civilized people. It is also, of course, subject to change through the democratic process. Personally, I can't agree with illegal actions or occupations as a protest against the law. I am sure that there are those who disagree with that statement when it comes to many of the aboriginal concerns. My question: If we allow any person or group to be exempt from the law, does not the law stop striving to be universal and therefore clearly become biased?
Murray Klippenstein: I think when one looks at the track record carefully in the field of native history, it is probably non-natives who have been "exempt from the law" more than the other way around. The number of times that non-native governments signed the most solemn written agreements with natives, in the strongest possible language, and then broke them, is astonishing. I suggest having a look at the dudleygeorge.ca website, where we've posted a copy of the 1793 written agreement regarding the Tyendinaga protest. It just takes two minutes. In that agreement, the Crown made some very strong land promises - and then broke them. And refused to correct it for well over a century. And in the 1920's, when natives started to lobby more effectively, Parliament passed a law prohibiting natives from hiring lawyers to pursue their land rights. So "the rule of law" was a one way street, and it wasn't natives who were the biggest problem.
Brodie Fenlon from globeandmail.com: With the Caledonia land dispute in Ontario in the headlines and warnings of a summer of aboriginal protests, what do you think governments can learn from the Ipperwash Inquiry report about how to handle these types of occupations, blockades, etc.
Murray Klippenstein: Actually, there's an awful lot of good stuff in the Inquiry report. So reading it might be of real interest to anyone concerned about these things. But I'll pick out a few highlights. One has to do with treaties. I know it sounds boring and unpleasant. But treaties are agreements and promises made. To put it bluntly, we non-natives really should get better at keeping them. The Treaty Commissioner position that the Inquiry report recommends would help us do that. Secondly, in a protest situation, slow down the reactions. At Ipperwash, according to the report, the government's haste prevented communication, allowed a lot of mistaken information to govern peoples' actions, and prevented "pressure release valves" from operating. And thirdly, there was a lot of raw prejudice and racism at work. The good news is that I think that a lot of these good ideas have already begun to work.
Brodie Fenlon from globeandmail.com: Thank you so much for taking time out of this busy day to answer our readers' questions, Mr. Klippenstein. Any last thoughts before we wrap up?
Murray Klippenstein: Thank you. And I know that the George family really do appreciate that the people of Ontario took the time and spent the money to hold this Inquiry to listen. We think it will help us all.
Brodie Fenlon from globeandmail.com: Thanks again to our guest and our readers. Please join us again Friday at 9 a.m. EDT when Ontario MPP Bob Runciman will take your questions on Ipperwash and the challenges governments face in dealing with native land claims, disputes and protests.