Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains of 2007––the people, places, and things that we’ve either fallen head over heels in love with or developed uncontrollable rage towards over the past twelve months. Get your dose, starting Boxing Day and running into the new year, three times a day––sunrise, noon, and sunset.
The story of Dudley George produced many heroes and villains during the almost twelve years between his killing at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 and the release in May 2007 of the findings of a judicial inquiry into his death.
Much attention has focused on the villains, like the two police officers caught on tape the day before the shooting talking about “a great big fat fuck Indian” and how they could bait native protestors with cases of beer, just like “in the [American] South with watermelon,” or what provincial political leaders knew, or should have known, in the days leading up to the shooting. But attention also deserves to be paid to the heroes, including those who spent many frustrating years trying to learn why and how an unarmed man was killed by a police officer in a free and democratic country––like Murray Klippenstein, a Toronto lawyer and legal counsel for the George family.
The facts, very briefly, are these. Members of the Stony Point native band occupied and built barricades at Ipperwash in order to protest the slow pace of resolving a decades-old land dispute. Following the deployment by Ontario Provincial Police officers, the standoff between protestors and police escalated to the point that one officer, Ken Deane, fired on a vehicle carrying several unarmed protestors, killing George and injuring two others. Although Deane was convicted two years later of criminal negligence causing death, bigger questions arose about possible political interference with a policing matter and about the exact circumstances that led to George’s death.
You’d think that the obvious way to find out such answers would be a public inquiry. But the Progressive Conservative provincial government under Mike Harris and, later, Ernie Eves, refused to permit one, stonewalling for eight long years. Only when Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals swept away the Conservatives in 2003 was a public inquiry ordered, which investigated for over three years before releasing its results in 2007.
Klippenstein served as counsel to the George family, in which capacity he served as spokesperson, lobbyist, and legal advisor. While Harris and Eves were in power, his role consisted largely of butting his head against a wall: filing requests for information, obtaining court orders to try to overcome unwillingness to provide evidence, and so forth. After the inquiry was ordered, his role changed to sifting through evidence, calling and cross-examining witnesses, and advocating on behalf of the George family.
Of course, Klippenstein isn’t the only hero in this saga. The George family, the McGuinty government, and the members of the judicial inquiry all deserve commendation for getting to the bottom of what really happened on that night in Ipperwash. But steering through bureaucracy, speaking out for a dead man, and tirelessly advocating in favour of justice—not vengeance—are all traits worthy of our praise.