More than two decades after protester Dudley George was shot and killed by an OPP officer at the former Ipperwash Provincial Park, a First Nations police force has assumed responsibility for the Stony Point area and its 50-odd residents.
On April 1, the Anishinabek Police Service formally assumed responsibility for Stony Point, one of more than a dozen First Nation areas overseen by the Indigenous police force. It also comes nearly three years after Camp Ipperwash, an army training facility expropriated through the War Measures Act in 1942, was returned to the people of Kettle and Stony Point as part of a $95-million settlement with the federal government.
“It’s been a bit of a slow transition,” said Insp. Barry Petahtegoose, regional director for the police service. “As you know, there’s history there with past incidents, like in 1995. Those incidents are still lingering, so we’re trying. We’re making the transition as slowly as possible in terms of policing there.”
The Anishinabek Police Service already policed Kettle Point before this recent transfer, which was ratified following an agreement between the Kettle and Stony Point nation, the Department of National Defence, Public Safety Canada, and the police service.
The transition will bolster the contingent from seven officers to 10, most of them band members from the Kettle and Stony Point area. The service is therefore uniquely equipped to provide “culturally appropriate” and “community-based” policing, Petahtegoose said.
It’s not outside the norm for First Nations communities in Southwestern Ontario. Most have their own police services and then rely on OPP backup when needed — for instance, during a recent triple homicide investigation near London that involved both OPP and the police service from Six Nations of the Grand River. Folding Stony Point into the jurisdiction of the Anishinabek Police Service makes sense in that context.
“It’s a bit of a change for the relatives living there at the camp, from the OPP to us,” Petahtegoose said. “We still rely on OPP for backup for major incidents, that kind of stuff. That relationship will always be there with us and the OPP, and they’re more than accommodating to assist with calls to Kettle and Stony Point.”
It’s unknown whether the OPP will ever fully repair its relationship with the people in Kettle and Stony Point, now more than two decades after George’s death in 1995. The Sept. 6, 1995, shooting of George during the Ipperwash park land dispute sparked an intense political battle in Ontario over why police confronted unarmed protesters and eventually led to a public inquiry that cast a harsh spotlight on relations with First Nations.
Kenneth Deane, an acting OPP sergeant at the time, was convicted of criminal negligence causing death following the clash. He resigned soon after and died in a car crash in 2006.
The transition could eventually help smooth relations with the provincial police, Petahtegoose said, but that’s a long-term goal, not something the current force is pushing.
“It’s been a longstanding issue with the incident back in 1995. That is still a sore spot you could say, for lack of a better term,” Petahtegoose said. “Hopefully we can try and mend those relationships with the community and the OPP, working with them. … Like anything it takes time to heal certain wounds.”