Tag Archives: military

RCMP Kill Ralph Stephens on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation in Alberta (January 7, 2017)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Canada have their origins as a colonial military force. Their history is one of settlerism and class domination on an ongoing basis. They continue in the present to police and regulate and repress Indigenous communities through targeted violence. This must be remembered in any case of RCMP contact with Indigenous people and communities in Canada.

Alberta RCMP shot and killed Ralph Stephens, 27, on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation near Morley on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Stephens died in hospital about and hour after being shot. Police claim they were on the reserve to execute a warrant for first-degree murder charges related to the death of Lorenzo “Billy” Bearspaw, also 27, whose body was found on the reserve on January 6 after he was reported missing on January 3 by a family member. The other men pursued by RCMP, John Stephens, 29, and Deangelo Powderface, 22, have both been taken into custody by the force. John Stephens was arrested directly prior to the killing of Ralph Stephens. Major Crimes with assistance from the RCMP Emergency Response Team were involved.

No one has said why police opened fire on the victim. Nothing has been reported to suggest he confronted or attacked police. Police have only said that Ralph Stephens “engaged police” but this has not been corroborated by any independent sources or witnesses. Several people were said to be in the residence at which Stephens was killed when the shooting happened.

The dangerous nature of this police action and the prospect it will stoke justified anger toward RCMP are clear. Police seem concerned with dampening any response. Chief Superintendent Tony Hamori, the officer in charge of Southern Alberta made an appeal with no note of accountability or reasons for adherence: “I also urge calm in the community while the investigations take place” (quoted by Anderson 2017).

Community members describe a chaotic scene after police arrived on the scene. According to Gerald Powderface, a relative of Ralph Stephens: “My family told me it happened so quick, even my cousin was asking them ‘Have you shot my boy?’ They didn’t even answer him, they just dragged him out of the house without no shoes and they’re throwing people out of the house left and right. They didn’t even answer his question, ‘Have you shot my boy? What happened, what’s going on here?’” (quoted in Anderson 2017).

The community has come to the family’s care and support. According to Gerald Powderface: We have a community here that support each other on every matter, especially a matter like that. They all come to the house. There was a lot of people there last night when I left” (quoted in Anderson 2017).

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the RCMP actions in killing Ralph Stephens. RCMP continue to maintain an active presence on the reserve since the shooting.

Whatever one might think about this particular case the fact remains that an historic settler colonial force built on dispossession, expropriation, and genocide continues to police Indigenous communities across Canada.


Further Reading

Anderson, Drew. 2017. “Man Shot by RCMP on Stoney Nakoda Reserve is Dead.” CBC News. January 8. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/stoney-nakoda-morley-rcmp-shooting-died-1.3926701

“Get the Fucking Indians Out of My Park”: Colonialism, Racism, and the “Ontario Political Police” Killing of Dudley George

On September 4, 1995, several members of the Stony Point nation entered Ipperwash Provincial Park, located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron in the area called, in statist terms, southwestern Ontario, with the intention of reclaiming their community’s land and a traditional burial ground. Within 72 hours of the indigenous community occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park, one of the community’s members, Anthony O’Brien (Dudley) George was dead. He had been shot and killed by an officer of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Kenneth “Tex” Deane, who had fired multiple rounds from an assault weapon at the non-threatening and unarmed George.

After the shooting of Dudley George many questions began to be asked. What role did the Ontario government play in pushing the OPP to move on the occupiers? Why did the OPP decide to march on the occupiers, taking an aggressive and confrontational approach (a full frontal assault) when there were already plans developed to address the situation through less aggressive means? Why were the OPP armed so heavily and with assault with assault weapons when it was known through a CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Services) mole that the occupiers were unarmed?

Some partial answers to these questions would only come out in the criminal trial of Tex Deane and the public inquiry held a decade after George’s homicide by police. The shooting of Dudley George came a day after newly elected Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris ordered OPP to “get the fucking Indians out of Ipperwash Park” (Ipperwash Inquiry 2007). An aide in the Premier’s office notoriously proclaimed: “The government will not be seen as cooperating with the Indians.” This was only a day before Dudley George was shot and killed. Yet the deeper answers to these questions are rooted in the general history of colonialism and genocide in Canada and the specific harms inflicted on The Kettle Point and Stony Point communities.

At the heart of policing across the Canadian context is, as it always is in the case of settler colonialism, control of land, Indigenous land. In the Canadian state context policing has always been a military exercise in the service of displacement, dispossession, seizure, securing, and settling of land and, where deemed necessary, re-seizing and re-securing land in those cases where Indigenous communities have organized to reclaim their community lands. The examples in Canadian history are numerous and ongoing. A litany of state organized and state enacted theft. Nothing less. Organized crime at the highest level. The names of incidents of state violence in the seizure of Indigenous lands live in infamy. So too the cases of police assaults carried out in the re-taking of land re-claimed by Indigenous communities. Oka, Gustafsen Lake, Sun Peaks, Caledonia, to name only a few recent ones. And Ipperwash.


An Ongoing History of Colonial Crimes: Always an Ipperwash Crisis for Indigenous People

The great Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, whose relations moved to Kettle Point, received a lecture from his older brother Chiksika. He said:

“When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder… When an Indian is killed it is a great loss which leaves a gap in our people and a sorrow in our heart; when a white is killed, three or four others step up to take his place and there is no end to it. The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to his will and use it wastefully…The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 33)


The story of the OPP Ipperwash police assault and the killing of Dudley George is rooted in a historic theft of land by the Canadian government for purposes of war. On July 10, 1827, Chief Wawanosh would conclude a treaty that would see King George IV acquire around 2,200,000 acres of prime land in Southwestern Ontario. The treaty would see the establishment of the Kettle and Stony Point reserves with a measly 5000 acres combined. The treaty conference that gave rise to the Kettle and Stony Point reserves came from a concern over land squatting (theft) by white settlers. In return the Indigenous communities received a promise that the Crown would provide living payments “annually and forever” (Edwards 2001, 39). Yet the Crown came to this agreement clearly intending that forever would be a very short time, if the Indigenous population decreased and, indeed, disappeared. The genocidal intentions, or at least expectations, of government, settlers, and missionaries were not hidden beneath the surface.

Primitive accumulation in the Canadian context occurred according to a brutal explicit calculus. This was made clear in crude terms by Reverend Thomas Hurlburt, Methodist missionary to Kettle and Stony Point and the city of Sarnia. In 1864 Reverend Hurlburt wrote in a piece in the Lambton County Gazeteer and Genneral Business Directory to lay out the mathematics of genocide for the general public. He stated:

“This is the easiest and cheapest way to dispose of the Indians of North America; for they must be disposed of in one of three ways; killed in war or by drink or Christianized by missionaries and thus made useful members of society…

“Having been in the mission among the Indians for the past 35 years, and having lived and labored among them in that capacity, I am acquainted with most of the tribes from Texas to the Hudson’s Bay territory, as well as in Canada, I have taken pains to gather the statistics of various Indian wars—the Florida, Black Hawks and others, and I find it requires $25,000 to dispose of an Indian by war, in addition to one white man being killed for every Indian. To dispose of them by drink I found by the statistics of those tribes who had large annuities, and consequently drunk much, that it required about $2,000 to kill an Indian by whiskey…

“In taking the statistics of our own Indian missions, I find it requires about $200 to Cristianize and civilize an Indian, and train him twenty years and thus give him a chance for both his life and that which is to come. Thus it is seen that it requires as much to kill an Indian in war as would Christianize 125, and train them twenty years. It requires as much to kill an Indian by whiskey as would Christianize and save ten. There are 125,000 Indians in British North America.” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 41)


This is the market calculus, the marketization of genocide. It is the logic that would give rise to the horrors of the residential schools and cultural erasure. This is the ongoing logic of colonialism that would find expression, sometimes explicit, in the Ipperwash crisis. It has economic, political, and cultural aspects.

A letter sent by agent A. Dingman of Strathroy to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald on August 27, 1884 and marked “Confidential” told a story of systematic theft of the resources of the reserve lands. In the letter Dingman recorded the activities of a timber mill owner A.L. Smith who operated in the area. The mill had been set up by the capitalist to ensure cloaked thievery. Noting that white settlers had stripped non-reserve lands of resources, Dingman reports:

“and there is now absolutely no place from which it is practicable to get logs with which to stock the mill except they come off the Indian Reserves. It is situated in such an out-of-the-way place that any person so disposed could easily get logs off the Reserves and few people would be aware of the fact unless they were specially interested in finding it out….If the object was to plunder the Reserves of timber no better place could be found than the spot where the mill is situated.” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 42)


As was common across the area of Ontario, the capitalist represented himself as an agent of the government. Smith had even constructed a phony title for himself, “forest bailiff,” a position that did not actually exist in Ontario. In a scheme that brought together the recent push to Christianize the communities the capitalist concocted a deal to return some sawed boards to the community for sue in building a church the newly converted now wanted. As Dingman reported: “never a board was used on the church. This process was repeated time and time again until fully $5,000 worth of timber was cut and sawed into timber, but not one board went towards building the church” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 42). Still the cutting for profit brought the woods to the point of being barren of trees.

Dingman suggested that the trees at Stony Point might not survive another winter of plunder (Edwards 2001, 42). While settlers for miles around had fences for their farms, the Native farmers had no wood for their own fences (Edwards 2001, 43).

There were no charges brought by the Government of Canada against any of the settlers or capitalists who had stolen from the Indigenous communities. Nor was anyone held responsible for government corruption or incompetence (Edwards 2001, 43). The government of Prime Minister Macdonald protected capitalist interests in Treaty 242 of 1888 which gave the federal government permission to sell Native timber rights in exchange for minimal cooperation. Notably the failure of the government to meet wartime promises to provide compensation for wartime service in the War of 1812 persisted throughout the community. Similar struggles would play out over service in subsequent wars up through the twentieth century.

In 1927 a group of land speculators with connections in Ottawa turned their greedy eyes to reserve lands on the shores of Lake Huron. Band members were offered bribes of five dollars if they voted to surrender the lands to developers. An additional ten dollars was offered if the vote to surrender the lands was approved by council (Edwards 2001, 45). Despite the fact that the lands were located at Kettle Point, the vote (and the bribes) were offered to men of both bands. In the end the 33 acres of parkland were purchased by speculators for eighty-five dollars per acre. Half was resold immediately by the developers who had a pre-existing deal for three hundred dollars and acre. The Kettle Point band received $7706.20 for land that developers received $13,200 in selling only half.

Years later the Indian Claims Commission ruled that the federal government had cheated the community as government Indian agents abandoned the duty to protect by looking away as the deal went down. By that point cottagers had held the land for generations (Edwards 2001, 46).

In 1936 the Stoney Point community were deprived of more of their land, when the Province of Ontario purchased 108 acres of land that had been sold the previous year to private actors (Edwards 2001, 46). The land would be used for none other than Ipperwash Provincial Park.

When workers preparing the park uncovered evidence of a Native burial ground appeals were made to government by band council to fence that area off from development. Despite official letters from provincial and federal governments approving of this request the fence was never built. The area would become a picnic grounds complete with horseshoe pits (Edwards 2001, 46).

The history of land theft by capital, settlers, and government against the Kettle Point and Stony Point communities would continue as war loomed in Europe in the late 1930s. The Canadian government desired a military training ground in Ontario (centrally located in the province with the country’s largest population). Businesses desired a facility in the area sine they could profit greatly servicing and supplying the base. Local businesses saw dollar signs in providing the base with fruit, vegetables, grains, bread, oil, canned goods, garbage removal, etc. as had been the  case with a base at Pinehill Camp (Edwards 2001, 46-47). That base was closed due to lack of running water on site, a great loss for profit seeking local capital. Stoney Point provided an ideal site right on the shores of Lake Huron and with water running all through it (Edwards 2001, 47).

In addition to its beneficial geographical qualities, Stoney Point offered a political benefit in that the Natives of Stoney Point did not have the vote and could not punish the government or local representatives at the voting booth. Another benefit for the government was financial. The Department of National Defence appraised the Stoney Point lands in 1942 at fifteen dollars per acre, which was much less than market value for nearby non-reserve lands. Economically, Native lands were viewed as “non-productive” (as long as Natives held them) despite the fact that they were directly farmed for food and essential for community purposes. The notion that Indigenous held lands were non-productive is one that returned to the center of federal government ideology under the Conservative Party regime of Stephen Harper in the 2000s as his government sought to convert Indigenous lands to marketable properties.

While the land deal would be put to a vote of the Stoney Point community a letter from the Secretary of Indian Affairs was sent to the local Indian agent stating that the government was “prepared to use the War Measures Act if the  Indians refused a surrender” (Edwards 2001, 47). Some vote then. Some democracy. Appropriately, on April Fools’ Day 1942 the Stoney Point band voted on the  fate of the lands. Members fighting overseas would not even get a vote. Under the government plan they would turn over the full 2211 acres of their land, all houses, and farms for a sum of $50,000.

Indigenous community members suggested a counter-proposal to lease the land to the federal government for the duration of the war but Ottawa rejected this. And why not? They had an ace up their sleeve. The vote showed a rejection of the government plan with the proposal being defeated 59-13 (Edwards 2001, 48). Never mind the “democratic” result. The government turned to their back up plan. On April 14, 1942, the federal government passed an order-in-council effecting an appropriation of the entire Stoney Point reserve.

Despite concerns among the federal Department of Justice about the legality of taking lands against the stated will of the community, the War Measures Act took the houses and land of the people of Stoney Point in the same manner as would also be imposed on supposed “enemy aliens” such as Japanese civilians (Edwards 2001, 48). Eighteen Stoney Point families were removed from their homes and lands and transferred to the Kettle Point reserve. They were merged into one band and reduced to one federally recognized chief. The Department of Indian Affairs which was supposed to look out for the interests of Indigenous communities (but rarely if ever did) raised not an eyebrow. In fact they viewed the move as a punitive measure to better oversee and regulate the people once they were in a closer space. One Indian agent even reported the dispossession and displacement as a great opportunity to round up a “few straggling Indians” (Edwards 2001, 49). To add insult to injury the government changed the name of the band from Stoney Point to Stony Point for unclear, bureaucratic, reasons. Their former land became Canadian Forces Base at Ipperwash (CFB Ipperwash).

Notably such a move for land expropriation would never have been considered against local white farmers or business property owners. Yet the area around the Stoney Point lands were being developed for less than essential purposes such as tourist resorts and weekend getaways for white visitors from the cities and from the United States. Those lands could have been appropriated with less impact on an existing community. The racist perspective of colonialism would not allow for consideration of such a move.

Residents of Stoney Point were moved without notification or even time to pack. As one displaced member Pearl George related: “When we came home, our house was up on jacks and our two log cabins were gone. They didn’t tell us anything…They never even let u know they were coming so we could pack up the little things. A lot of things were broken. They moved us to Kettle Point, to a swamp” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 49). Three of her children born at Kettle Point would die after developing intestinal problems that she attributed to the swamp[ water. The displaced felt like strangers in another land. As Maynard George, a son of Pearl, would state: It was sort of like in Bosnia where they put two different ethnic groups together. They did not allocate us good wood or housing. We could not become members of the band council or get any work on the reserve” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 50). This made no difference to government and likely never even registered at all. Other homes were simply levelled rather than moved. This was the fate suffered by the small church at Stoney Point as well as by many of the headstones in a nearby cemetery.

One can try to imagine the feelings of soldiers such as Clifford George who returned to a levelled land after having risked his life fighting in Europe (for the very state that was stealing and bulldozing his home while he faced enemy fire). He would  later reflect: “I came home to nothing. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I first went there [to Stoney Point] and couldn’t find my mother’s grave. They had removed the headstones and there were bullet holes and trenches dug. They could only do that to an Indian. That would never happen to white people” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 52). With no home to return to George would move to a nearby town. He would be stripped of his legal Indian status. In his words: “I came back to find the real enemy was here” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 53).

The Canadian government had promised the Stony Point community that their lands would be returned to them at cessation of the fighting at war’s end. Following the end of World War Two the Transitional Powers Act replaced the War Measures Act setting the stage for a social transition to post-war conditions.

On May 31, 1946, the advanced infantry training center at CFB Ipperwash was closed. The Department of National Affairs and Department of Indian Affairs opened discussions about returning the confiscated lands to the Indigenous community. On December 31, 1946, the Transitional Powers Act expired and the stolen lands had still not been returned. Yet no extension was granted for the Department of National Defense to retain the Stony Point lands. The government had no legal basis to keep the lands. But it did.

In this context life went on. And grew. Dudley George was born on March 17, 1957 at Sarnia General Hospital. Anthony O’Brien George was the eighth of ten children in a family that lived at the Sarnia reserve after his family’s community was destroyed by the Canadian government 15 years before Dudley was born. Ironically he got his nickname Dudley after the character Dudley Do-Right a clueless Mountie featured in Saturday morning cartoons (Edwards 2001, 55). His family would move to Kettle Point when he was eight.

The efforts by Stony Point members to reclaim their land did not cease at any point during the period in which their lands were controlled by the Canadian government. Future Prime Minister Jean Chretien, then Minister of Indian Affairs noted in a letter to the Minister of National Defense in 1972:

“Since 1946 our respective Departments have been corresponding on the subject of the return of some 2,200 acres comprising Canadian Forces Base Camp Ipperwash which was appropriated in 1942 by the Department of National Defence under the War Measures Act….

“The Chippewas of Kettle Point have repeatedly requested the return of these lands which are needed to enable the Band to improve its economic and social position. Time has not altered the Indians’ view that they were wronged by the forcible taking of their reserve in 1942. Moreover, it was their understanding that the land was to have been returned to them at the end of hostilities.

“With cuts in the Canadian Forces Bases indicated it seems to me that this is an appropriate time to reconsider this matter and I would appreciate having advice as to your Department’s plans for Camp Ipperwash. The transfer of this land to the administration and control of this Department so that it could be returned to reserve status would be of great importance to the Kettle Point Indians and would remove a major source of dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Federal Government have dealt with this reserve.” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 58)


Nothing came of this of course. Of note, Chretien had become Prime Minister of Canada at the time the Ipperwash reclamation occupation, and shooting of Dudley George, occurred. Yet he did nothing as Prime Minister to improve a situation of injustice that he was clearly aware needed to be redressed and had be aware of for decades.

In 1950 the park superintendent’s wife had reported the discovery of human bones. By 1972 the government seemed to have forgotten about all discussions around fencing off the burial ground or about the discovery of bones.

The Canadian government made a payment of 2.5 million dollars to the Kettle and Stony Point band in 1980 as partial compensation for the base lands. This was accompanied by a promise that the lands would be returned when military use had finally ceased (Edwards 2001, 60). In March 1992 a report was tabled by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal People recommending that the federal government return the Camp Ipperwash lands to the Stony Point community.

The people themselves followed this recommendation up a month later when a gathering of 100 showed up at Camp Ipperwash to serve an eviction notice on the Department of National Defense. The government was given 20 days to leave the premises (Edwards 2001, 61). The group of 100 included members of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Their representative Van Hori noted that his community had also lost their homes and had their land expropriated by the government during World War Two. He stated: “It took us forty-six years to get an apology and some kind of compensation…These people are still waiting” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 61). The Department of National Defense replied in August 1992 that there was still a need to keep the Camp Ipperwash lands.

For many in the community the time for waiting was over. Fifty years had passed since the government stole the lands. Forty-six years since the promised time of return. On May 27, 1993 the military base was reoccupied by an Indigenous group calling itself now the Stoney Point First Nation. They named the reclaimed lands Aushoodaana Anjibaajrg meaning “resting place.” Dudley George was among that original group of land reclaimers.

The occupiers built homes on the base, pitched tents, parked trailers. The soldiers at the base remained doing what exercises they could. The occupation grew to around 100 residents with dozens more visiting regularly and offering support. Indigenous groups from across Turtle Island sent visitors. The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) offered solidarity in the form of timber for buildings and generators for power (Edwards 2001, 62). The happiness in the community was real. As Clifford George stated: “This is the first time in fifty years, since before the war, that we’ve all been together so close. We’re finally back together again, and that’s why we have such a good relationship….I’m back to stay. They’ll have to carry me off and they better lock me up because the minute they let me loose, I’ll come back again” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 62). The community elected its own chief and council (outside the formal structures of the colonial Indian Act). This was an assertion of self-determination and self-governance. Traditional teachings were practiced. A peace tree was planted over a traditional stone axe. A month in the first permanent structure, a church, was completed (Edwards 2001, 63).

The military kept up low level Bell 212 helicopter flights for reconnaissance shining lights into the occupation camp. According to Clifford George: “Sometimes they flew so low they raised dust. They scare the kids and old people. I’m all in favour of laying of charges of harassment against the military” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 64). The helicopter crews that harassed the Stoney Point people had flown missions in the colonial deployment in Somalia.

The media war was also initiated against the Indigenous occupiers. Media began to portray them as terrorists not as a cheated community striving after decades to get their stolen lands back. In this the media were replaying by now well rehearsed narratives of Indigenous resistance as terrorism or criminality. Such discourses had only recently been trotted out and repeated for national and even international audiences during the Oka crisis of 1990.

In the federal budget speech of 1994 the government announced plans to negotiate the return of Camp Ipperwash lands. No date was given.

Enough was finally more than enough. On July 29, 1995, Stoney Point occupiers drove a yellow school bus through the doors of a base hall and refused to leave. The military simply withdrew. By the end of summer community members had secured contracts to maintain the base at ten dollars per hour. There was no violence.

On Monday, September 4, Labor Day, 1995, the Indigenous protesters occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park, as they had, in fact, promised to do. There were about 35 occupiers in the park on the first evening. Police knew from the start that this occupation differed from other recent occupations such as Oka in Quebec and Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia. Their own briefing notes reported “no visible weapons” (Edwards 2001, 75). And their observers suggested the occupation was not well organized.

Still police right away put in motion plans to move more than 200 officers to the area along with caged Corrections Canada buses (Edwards 2001, 75). The Forest arena was commandeered as an arrest center. Police had also made arrangements with the Canadian military for use of armored personnel carriers. Project Maple was underway. The social war character of the police operation and response to Indigenous occupiers was unescapable. It would soon claim its casualties.


The Police Assault on Ipperwash and the Killing of Dudley George

Throughout Tuesday, September 5, and Wednesday, September 6, 1995, dozens of out of town officers appeared in the area near the camp and park. There was a mass mobilization of police force which seemed well out of proportion given the small numbers of community occupiers and the peaceful, by all accounts, nature of the protest.

Police roadblocks were set up on roads around the park and drivers were stopped and questioned. Indigenous drivers and passengers were subjected to particularly lengthy interrogations by police. The night of the police assault police shut down all roads around the park and military base sealing the protesters off from the outside world. Dozens of police vehicles, including containment vans, had been massed outside the park.

Numerous people, like Kettle and Stony Point band councillor Cecil Bernard, told OPP officers during the occupation that the occupiers were “good, peaceful people” (Edwards 2001, 1). They also noted that they felt that the officers did not care or were almost disappointed to hear this.

On the evening of the lethal police raid that killed Dudley George there were only about 25 people inside the park and this included some children (Edwards 2001, 2). The occupiers had no weapons in the park. In fact weapons had been banned by occupiers who realized they could not win in a shootout with police, which they did not seek anyway, and having weapons could be potentially disastrous.

The police maneuvers that resulted in the killing of Dudley George were military in character. The riot squad, the Crowd Management Unit, that moved on the camp was made up of the OPP Tactics and Rescue Unit (TRU) a paramilitary formation (Edwards 2001, 3). They consisted of scouts and snipers. It was never quite clear how the decision to send in the TRU was ever arrived at and ordered.

At one point earlier in the evening they had almost claimed a different victim, also unarmed. A TRU sniper had eyed what he believed to be an Indigenous person with a rifle standing at the side of the road. He also saw what he believed to be the reddish glow from a night vision riffle scope. What happened next is chilling. The officer reported into his radio: “CMU [Crowd Management Unit] be advised party on road may have a weapon in his hand. Check CMU person on the road does have a weapon, does have a weapon. Everybody move. Right, left, quick right, left, quick right, left, quick right, left, everybody quick right. Left” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 3). The sniper dropped into position taking aim on the figure, awaiting the order to “Fire.” The man was that close to being dead. As automatic weapons trained on him snipers confirmed the perceived threat. A police scout: “Confirm one man with weapon—long gun” (Edwards 2001, 3). That close.

But the police were mistaken. A message from Constable Mark Beauchene to Acting Sergeant Ken Deane clarified that the man in the crosshairs did not actually have a gun at all. He carried a walking stick. The red glow from the night sight—a lit cigarette (Edwards 2001, 3). And he was that close to being killed right then and there. Under eerily similar circumstances of police error and confusion Dudley George would not escape with such fortune.

Still the CMU continued their ill advised march on the camp. Near the park entrance protesters would see about 30 of them marching toward them in a tight box formation. Years before concerns would be more constantly raised about the militarization of policing, this formation of the riot squad came forward in head to toe body armor, with shin and elbow pads, holding Plexiglas shields and steel batons. They wore heavy helmets not meant to communicate with those they were approaching (to serve and protect of course). Rather their intended communications were only with each other. The helmets were equipped with internal microphones.

Police began pounding on the shields with their batons, “shield chatter,” in the tried and true attempt to intimidate, distract, and terrorize. This was nothing less than a military formation on a military maneuver. It was designed to frighten and threaten and, if necessary, to inflict lethal force. It had no other purpose or intent.

In response the protesters were not fully intimidated. Some turned high powered spotlights on the officers. Lights, symbolically, ironically, illuminating a situation from the history of Canadian settler colonialism—the deployment of military force to drive Indigenous people off of their lands. And the protesters were explicit that they recognized and understood this. They responded to the CMU appropriately: “This is our traditional land. Our forefathers were here before you! Get back on the Mayflower! Go back with the Pilgrims” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 5). And: “You’re stealing our land! Go back to England! Get the fuck off our land!” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 5). The land reclaimers were justly defiant. They were no aggressive or violent. None of that mattered to police who were impatient to deploy force against the protesters (for reasons not immediately apparent perhaps but politically significant).

Riot squad officers initially made a raid against Indigenous people in the parking lot. Police adopted a spread formation, standing wide apart to look more menacing and to avoid projectiles (Edwards 2001, 5). Moments later the police charged the group again. Indigenous protesters were beaten, at least one into unconsciousness. Later in the attack a dog that was with the protesters would be shot and killed by police. In the end, in addition to Dudley George, 16-year-old Nicholas Cottrelle would also be shot in the volleys of dozens of bullets fired by police at Indigenous protesters. Cecil Slippery George would be beaten almost to death by police. A dog that was with Cottrelle on a bus the youth tried to drive out of danger was also shot and killed.

Ken “Tex” Deane, the officer  who shot and killed Dudley George, was armed with an East German Heckler and Koch submachine gun. It fired 800 rounds a minute. Deane had been on duty for sixteen hours. Another officer, Sergeant George Hebblethwaite, second in command of the riot squad, recognized that George appeared to be holding only a stick (Edwards 2001, 10). Yet, in what would be found in a trial and inquiry after the killing to be unwarranted and unjustifiable use of force, Deane opened fire anyway. Deane hit George with what were the second and third volleys of bullets he fired. The third volley delivered the lethal shot.

Dudley George’s sister Carolyn and brother Pierre tried  frantically to get their stricken sibling to the local hospital for urgently needed care. They placed him in a car and made a desperate run for the hospital. What played out was an horrific expression of police vengeance and pettiness. Police attempted at every turn to stop the vehicle carrying the badly wounded Dudley George and the frantic effort to save his life saw the vehicle circumvent several would be roadblocks and out-maneuver the police pursuit.  Incredibly they managed to get Dudley to Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital in Strathroy, Ontario. The nightmare did not end when they got there.

Police chose to arrest and detain Pierre George and Carolyn George, who delivered Dudley to the hospital, rather than get the dying man immediate medical attention. Young Nicolas Cottrelle, only 16, who was also shot by police would  himself be charged by police with attempted murder. With 28 blunt force trauma wounds across his body delivered by police, Slippery George was charged with assault. The laying of charges against people who have been violently attacked by police is a standard practice that is all too familiar to people who have engaged in political protests in Canada. It is a practice that has become routine.

Dudley’s brother Pierre and sister Carolyn, who had so desperately tried to save their brother’s life were put in the Strathroy town jail and each charged with attempted murder. Police at the jail refused to answer Pierre George’s repeated requests to find out how Dudley was. Somehow though they knew.

Dudley George suffered fractures of the seventh, eighth, and ninth ribs on his left side, a cracked collar bone, and had two large fragments of bullets in the subcutaneous soft tissues (Edwards 2001, 20). The young man, a beloved jokester, was declared dead at 12:20 AM on September 7, 1995, at nearby Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital, in Strathroy, Ontario.

Anthony O’Brien George (March 17, 1957–September 7, 1995), known to friends and family as Dudley, was the eighth of ten children born to Geneviève (“Jenny”) Pauline Rogers George and Reg “Nug” (Reginald Ransford) George.

Kettle and Stony Point Chief, Tom Bressette, described the sense of terror inflicted on the community by police. In his words: “Our elders were fleeing the community…They were afraid the army would come back with the police and kill them” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 22). The history of violence inflicted on the community and the immediate killing of their neighbor Dudley gave them ample reason to feel threatened. As would be revealed in the pubic inquiry held years later the community without fully knowing it perhaps had larger political reasons to be fearful. The government was fully prepared to deploy, indeed desired, police terror against the community to break the occupation.

The morning after the killing of Dudley George, Premier Harris refused to meet with Chief Bressette, Assembly of First Nations head Ovid Mercredi, and Ontario Chief Gord Peters. Harris referred to the occupation as illegal even though senior government ministers knew it was likely fully legal given the existence of burial grounds in the park (Edwards 2001, 118). The claim of Indigenous illegality was a claim Harris would repeat publicly even days later. After the killing the military tried to denigrate Dudley George by suggesting he had an “extreme criminal record” (Edwards 2001, 116). This was in no way accurate. He had one arrest as a youth (in an event for which white youth also involved were never even charged).


Racism and Colonialism Continued: Law and Order Conservatism and the Ipperwash Siege

The community members believed early on that Conservative Premier Mike Harris was responsible for the lethal police operation. Harris and his hard Right neoliberal Conservative Party government had only been elected three months before the killing of Dudley George. His government had made clear in their election campaign that they would make poor and working class communities scapegoats for social discontent and economic uncertainty. The suffering of the poor and unemployed would pay for social programs desired by the wealthy (through a massive transfer of social wealth away from services needed by the poorest members of society). They were an openly reactionary force for capital and fierce proponents of a neoliberal austerity agenda and tough on crime politics of repression.

Under the banner of their so-called “Common Sense Revolution” the Harris Tories launched a counter-revolutionary assault against poor people, welfare recipients, unions, students, community groups, and progressives of all types. At one point a year into his term Harris would target even sociologists (who were critical of anti-social government policy) labeling the discipline as “waste in the system” of post-secondary education.

Harris had, as official Opposition leader, made his racist views on Indigenous communities, and common sense, known to a group of business people (his people) at the Elmhurst Resort near Peterborough. According to Harris: “There’s a whole notion of guilt…because Native people haven’t fully adapted from the reservations [reserves] to being full partners in this economy. We can’t let that guilt preclude us from reaching a common sense solution” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 26). Common sense to Harris was justification for ongoing colonialism. Hs was, on the whole, an agenda of ramped up violence in service of primitive accumulation and renewed conditions for exploitation more favorable to capital (against policies and programs that offered some buffer for the working class and oppressed.

Among the changes introduced early by Premier Harris was the ending of employment equity legislation that would have had employers make plans to hire visible minorities, women, and Indigenous people (Edwards 2001, 26). This was the common sense counter-revolution for Ontario. Notably this agenda would be taken nationally when the revamped Conservative Party under Stephen Harper came to power between 2005 and 2015 with several veterans of Harris’s Common Sense Revolution as ministers in the federal cabinet.

From the start police were aware that they were being watched closely by the Premier’s office and Conservative Party. The first day of the operation Conservative MPP Marcel Beaubien arrived on the scene and was in communication with the government at Queen’s Park. The earliest government meetings expressed an intention to “remove the occupiers ASAP” (Edwards 2001, 80). The Conservative Party had campaigned on a hard law and order platform of zero tolerance for even minor offenses and the quelling of political dissent. The Premier’s office sought to use the excuse of break and enter or property damage to push it law and order agenda and sought signs of weapons.

Conservative MPP Beaubien released a press statement replaying racist claims about a two-tiered justice system that was soft on Natives, compared, again in racist fashion, to non[-Native people who were presented as “law abiding and tax paying citizens” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 82). The Indigenous community members were described as “irresponsible, law breaking dissidents” despite the fact that the occupation had not been declared illegal by anyone formally or charges prepared (quoted in Edwards 2001, 82). These claims played on racist tropes familiar in the history of Canadian colonialism and cultural erasure of Indigenous peoples. To add a further racist plum MPP Beaubien tried to distinguish between “your decent native citizen” and “thugs” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 82). Another referent from Canadian colonial discourse.

MPPs like Beaubien were ratcheting up tensions and calling on the Premier’s office for a forceful and swift intervention. Pressure was also coming from Conservative Party supporters. A letter from a local lawyer to the government was circulated saying in part: “The Conservative government had a large law and order plank in its platform—I want to see it live up to its election promises and my expectations. I want to see Ipperwash Provincial Park remain in the public domain, and I want the law enforced to see that it does” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 88). The letter writer raised the clichéd specter of anarchy and showed little regard for the wellbeing of protesters: “The time to act, and act decisively, is now. If people are hurt, so be it—the laws must be enforced to be respected….If illegal acts are tolerated, they spread. The end result is anarchy” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 88). This from a lawyer promoting illegal police action against Indigenous people who, on the basis of the known burial site on the lands were not actually acting illegally (which it turns out the government was aware of). An open call for potential extrajudicial execution of land defenders.

Ironically the statement offered a note that expressed the very situation of the Indigenous community that had waited 50 years to get their land back. It read: “People begin to perceive the government cannot protect them and their interests—they begin to take steps to protect themselves” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 88). Meant as a threat this actually explained the situation of the land reclaimers who were being targeted for condemnation.

The appeals of the non-Natives and the racist messaging was not lost o the government which agreed with such sentiments. In meetings of the provincial Emergency Planning Committee, notes show clearly that the Conservative government would accept no compromise and would accept nothing, in fact, except the forced removal of the reclaimers. The government would not negotiate. Neither would they consider, incredibly, that the Indigenous people actually had legitimate claims on the lands. This intransigence was in place even as experts informed them that there were no legal grounds for removal of the occupiers. Stunningly, the government’s own files contained proof of the existence of the burial ground inside the park.

The government had already decided to seek an ex parte injunction against the Indigenous protesters. This would ban them from making any argument of their case in the courts, excluding them from the process. It was a measure usually reserved for extreme cases (Edwards 2001, 91). Excluded from the hearing they could not argue or provide evidence for their reasons for being on the land. The police were granted the ex parte injunction for four days.

Notes show that the government asked police to remove the protesters and showed frustration that the police did not do so immediately. The government wanted “to be seen as acting” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 89). The government even rejected possible assistance from Kettle and Stony Point band chief Tom Bressette. According to notes: “This government will not be seen as cooperating with the Indians” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 90).

Racism played an active part in the approach taken by police as well as by government. Protesters reported police hurling racist epithets at them throughout the occupation and police assault on the reclamation camp and saying Dudley George, by name, would “be the first” (Edwards 2001, 86). Police communication suggested that Native occupiers had been drinking even though there was no sign they were drinking and that they had, in fact, said they wanted no drinking among people at the site. According to police transcripts, OPP Superintendent Anthony Parkin said of the land reclaimers: “They’re probably all boozed up. They’ve probably been drinking” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 98). The police also suggested cynically that some occupiers were leaving because they knew trouble was coming. Yet they had actually left because they had school and jobs to go to (Edwards 2001, 98). This fact never occurred to police steeped in colonial racist ideology of unemployed, uneducated, Natives. The police also played on racist constructions of Indigenous people as untrustworthy and crooked. Toward this end the police spread rumors in the local area about native occupiers stealing gas. This was designed to stoke suspicion and anger among local farmers, business people, and town residents.

Police and government documents would show a close relationship between the provincial government and the OPP, even in contravention of law and public policy separating government from policing operations. OPP Commissioner Thomas O’Grady was a member of a joint crisis team that met regularly beginning one month before Dudley George was killed by police. So close was the relationship that the OPP had been nicknamed the “Ontario Political Police” (Edwards 2001, 120). The joint team was viewed as a legitimate vehicle for government.


Social War Policing and the Killing of Dudley George

In a case that underlines the state-capital nexus in policing, and the police as social war defenders of capital, the police also received an armored personnel carrier directly from the manufacturer, GM Diesel, in the nearby city of London, Ontario. Of note, the factory had a special agreement with the London police to provide it armored vehicles in times of police need. The only conceivable possible need was crowd control and anti-protest maneuvers.

The  infamous Chief of Police for London at the time, one Julian Fantino (known for racial profiling during his time as chief in York, Ontario and for keeping a list of gay men while in London) agreed to loan a vehicle to the OPP for the siege of Ipperwash. Fantino would, several years later, be head of the OPP at the time of the Six Nations occupation at Caledonia, Ontario. There the police would notoriously assault the occupation in violation of the recommendations that arose following the police murder of Dudley George. OPP under Fantino would also protect white supremacists who sought to attack the Six Nations reclamation.

The military nature of the police action was further reinforced with the use of air cover through helicopter flyovers. Occupiers had noted surveillance by low flying police helicopters as well as shoreline patrols by a police boat. The Indigenous land reclaimers were being encircled on land and in the air. And even by water. Around the clock. This was a full on military siege. At the same time they actually consisted of a grand total of nine people, including three children (Edwards 2001, 80). At one point a police helicopter buzzed so low on a picnic of women and children that it blew their food off the table (Edwards 2001, 86).

The OPP made informal requests for help to the Canadian military. OPP were in communication with the military over a plan to outnumber Natives ten to one (rather than the two to one ratio in effect when Dudley George was killed). Unfortunately for their plan available troops were preparing to fight an external imperial battle in Bosnia.


Surveillance and Police Spies

As in traditional military operations the state also deployed special ops against the occupiers. At least one spy provided information over a period of time to both CSIS and the OPP. The one identified spy was Jim Moses, a journalist who had contributed to various Indigenous media as well as mainstream outlets like the state broadcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and its investigative newsmagazine The Fifth Estate (Edwards 2001, 69). CSIS was particularly interested in involvement by or connections with the Mohawk Warrior Society, noted for activism and community defense at Akwesasne and Oka. Moses reported being paid around $2000 by the OPP over almost three years of spying on Indigenous groups. CSIS paid between 400 dollars and 800 dollars per month (Edwards 2001, 69).

Notably, over his period with the Stoney Point occupiers Moses could find and report no wrongdoing by the group. This despite the fact that it would have been beneficial financially for him to do so. Moses went on to stay with the occupiers at the military base. He never saw any guns at the occupation. He regarded Dudley George as a joker rather than a fighter or leader (Edwards 2001, 70). He expressed deep sadness at George’s killing. In his words: “Dudley was a happy-go-lucky friendly guy…I was sick. I felt empty…It was totally unnecessary” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 70). This from the police infiltrator.

The OPP also used officers posing as tourists to spy on Indigenous people along the park beach. In addition two undercover officers were placed in the camp posing as campers. They operated out of a trailer and a mobile home (Edwards 2001, 70). Notably they too had nothing threatening or ominous to report about the activities of the occupiers.

The OPP’s military Tactics and Rescue Unit had been formed specifically to address terrorism (in the period before 9/11). It’s deployment and dubious use in this situation show both the government view of Indigenous land defense and the misuse for purely politically opportunistic purposes various “anti-terror” mechanisms. Notably the police construction of Indigenous land defenders as terrorists continues in recent surveillance and response to Indigenous pipeline resistance in the twenty-first century.

The police, despite massive surveillance and  an infiltrator in the occupation camp, had no evidence, at any point, of any danger posed by the land reclaimers.  Yet the government took the extreme measure of gaining an ex parte injunction against the occupiers.


An Inquiry and a Killer Cop Convicted

In a rare turn of events in the Canadian state context, where police are almost never charged or brought to trial for killing civilian, the officer who killed Dudley George, Acting Sergeant Ken “Tex” Deane was actually charged and his case tried in a court of law. Deane put forward a defense that he believed Dudley George to be carrying a rifle at the time he shot the young man. The presiding judge did not accept this Defense and found Deane’s claims to lack credibility, a rare conclusion regarding police officer testimony in cases where officers are charged for killing someone. According to Judge Hugh Fraser: “I find, sir, that you were not honest in presenting this version of events to the Ontario Provincial Police investigators. You were not honest in presenting this version of events to the Special Investigations Unit of the Province of Ontario. You were not honest in maintaining this ruse before this court” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 198). Deane was found guilty of criminal negligence but sentenced to a non-custodial punishment. For killing Dudley George in cold blood Tex Deane was given a conditional sentence of two years less a day which was to be served in the community (Edwards 2001, 214).

Despite the conviction, Tex Deane did not lose his job as a police officer. He maintained his employment with the force for five-and-a-half years following the criminal conviction. Over that time Officer Deane appealed his conviction to the Ontario Court of Appeal and eventually all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Finally, in the wake of a hearing under the Police Act, Deane was additionally convicted of Discreditable Conduct. He was given the option of resigning within seven days or being fired and left the force. Deane would go on to work as a security guard, unsettlingly, at an Ontario Hydro nuclear station.

Tex Deane was killed in a car accident on February 25, 2006. Ironically perhaps, his vehicle collided with a truck near Prescott, Ontario while Deane was traveling to testify in the provincial inquiry called into the government handling of the Ipperwash crisis (Harris 2006).

Following the police killing of Dudley George the George family made ongoing calls for both the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada to strike a public inquiry into the handling of the response to the land reclamation at Ipperwash by the province and the police. They wanted to know especially the nature and extent of government involvement in directing police operations against the Indigenous community protesters.

Finally, on November 12, 2003, a public inquiry was launched in Ontario. This only happened after the ruling Conservative Party lost the election of 2003 to the Liberal Party headed by Dalton McGuinty. The Conservatives had held to power and refused an inquiry into their actions for eight years.

While the inquiry was funded by the Government of Ontario it was carried out under a third party, Sidney B. Linden, who was deemed to be neutral. Linden derived his authority as a commissioner as covered by the Public Inquiries Act (Ontario). The public inquiry was given the specific mandate to examine and report on the events surrounding the killing of Dudley George. This was not a trial and no punishment would be levied. It was expected that the inquiry would provide recommendations covering interactions between police and Indigenous communities in future events of similar nature to the Ipperwash protests.

Evidence provided over the course of the inquiry was damning of the Conservative government’s racism and contempt for Indigenous communities. It also showed dubious government relationships with police and pointed to government pressures on policing in the nature of a police state. At one point a 17-minute tape recording was submitted that revealed a stunning conversation between OPP Inspector Ron Fox and Inspector John Carson, the OPP commander in charge of the Ipperwash case before Dudley George was killed. The two officers discussed Premier Mike Harris’s aggressive and racist perspective that that the government has “tried to pacify and pander to these people far too long” and to use “swift affirmative action” to remove the Indigenous people from the park (Ipperwash Inquiry 2007). It could be said that this was the only time in his period in office that Mike Harris supported any form of affirmative action.

Perhaps most damning was shocking evidence provided by former Ontario Provincial Attorney General Charles Harnick on November 28, 2005. Harniick testified that Premier Harris used extreme profanity while shouting, “I want the fucking Indians out of my park” (Ipperwash Public Inquiry 2005).

Former Premier Mike Harris did appear reluctantly before the inquiry on February 14, 2006. Harris denied in his testimony that he had ever made the statement attributed to him by Harnick (CBC News 2006). Notably, Justice Linden “found the statements were made and they were racist, whether intended or not” (Ipperwash Inquiry, Volume 1 2007, 677).

The evidentiary hearings portion of the inquiry ended on June 28, 2006. The final report from Justice Linden and the overall findings of the inquiry were released on May 31, 2007 (CBC News 2007). They concluded that the Premier’s office and the police had acted inappropriately and improperly in the events at Ipperwash.


Not in Vain: Victory to the Occupiers and the Return of the Lands

The killing of Dudley George can only be considered a state atrocity, an extrajudicial execution carried out on behalf of a government that sought to show it was tough of protesters and, more, an upholder of the colonial power relations at the heart of the Canadian state. But Dudley George’s death was not in vain. His people would emerge victorious in this particular struggle despite the efforts of the Ontario government. Unfortunately this victory, and confirmation of the rightness of their struggle, would only come 12 years after Dudley George was killed.

On December 20, 2007, the Ontario Provincial government, now under Liberal Party direction, made a public announcement that it would finally return the full acreage of Ipperwash Provincial Park to its proper inhabitants, the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (Gillespie 2007). This initial announcement did not make full return of the lands immediately since the land was placed under co-management by the provincial government and the Indigenous communities for an unspecified period of time. The government also announced that there would be consultations carried out with nearby local communities (non-Indigenous). Then-Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant suggested that the land would be turned over to full Chippewa control at the end of this consultation process.

The date finally came on Thursday May 28, 2009, when then-Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Brad Duguid formally signed control of Ipperwash Park over to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (McCaffery 2009). The full settlement was only finalized on April 14, 2016, a delay for the community of more than 70 years after the government’s promised return of the end of World War Two. The land was turned over to the community along with a  payment of $95 million. The Federal government was represented in the signing over by Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Dr. Carolyn Bennett. Signing the agreement on behalf of the First Nation was Chief Thomas Bressette (Bridge 2016).

It should also be noted that some members of the community have opposed the agreement as too little too late. Pierre George was engulfed in flames during a protest prior to the signing.


CODA: They are the Government. We Can Never Trust the Police

Peter Edwards gives a sense of the hegemonic view of policing held by most media members, but which Indigenous communities hold with skepticism. According to the reporter:

“It’s a basic understanding in a democracy that police keep a professional distance from politicians It has to be this way. Otherwise, police would soon find themselves ordered to crack down on the political rivals of whoever is in office, ass happens in Third World police states. That would be the certain death of democracy.” (Edwards 2001, 24)


Well then democracy in Canada is already dead. Killed by police. As each of the cases of activists killed by police in Canada shows the ruling politicians and political parties do not keep a distance from police. Regularly they engage with, direct, and/or pressure police to act with violence for political purposes and toward political ends. The police killing of Dudley George was no different in this respect.

One Indigenous woman offered an alternative view of the hegemonic perspective on [police as peacekeepers. In her view: “They [the police] are the government. We can never trust the police” (quoted in Edwards 2001, 25). This is a clear sighted and correct criminological analysis of the historic and contemporary character of policing in Canada. Despite what the national mythologies might have one believe.


Further Reading

Bridge, Terry. 2016. “Feds’ 1942 Land Expropriation Dispute Resolved with Land’s Return and $95-Million Payment to Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.” Sarnia Observer. April 14. http://www.theobserver.ca/2016/04/14/feds-1942-land-expropriation-dispute-resolved-with-lands-return-and-95-million-payment-to-chippewas-of-kettle-and-stony-point-first-nation

CBC News. 2006. “Harris Denies Ever Using Profane Slur Against Natives.” CBC News. 16. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/harris-denies-ever-using-profane-slur-against-natives-1.592725

CBC News. 2007. “George Family Braces for Ipperwash Inquiry Report.” CBC News. May 31. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/george-family-braces-for-ipperwash-inquiry-report-1.633839

Edwards, Peter. 2001. One Dead Indian: The Premier, The Police, and the Ipperwash Crisis. Toronto: Stoddart

Gillespie, Kerry. 2007. “Ipperwash Land Returned to Indians.” Toronto Star. December 21. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2007/12/21/ipperwash_land_returned_to_indians.html

Harris, Kate. 2005. “Key Ipperwash Witness Killed in Highway Crash.” Globe and Mail. February 27. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/key-ipperwash-witness-killed-in-highway-crash/article20409136/

Ipperwash Inquiry. 2007. Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, Volume 1. Toronto: Government of Ontario

Ipperwash Public Inquiry. 2005. “Ipperwash Public Inquiry. Transcript of November28.” http://mail.tscript.com/trans/ipperwash/nov_28_05/text.htm

McCaffery, Dan. 2009. “Ipperwash Park to Re-Open in 2010.” London Free Press. May 28. http://nationtalk.ca/story/ipperwash-park-to-re-open-in-2010-london-free-press


No Hearing Needed to Know “Suicide by Cop” is Bogus

Phony criminology has been used to provide justification and cover for authorities throughout the course of the discipline. One can go back at least to the quackery of Cesare Lombroso who used facial structures and other physical features to reinforces prejudices of the impoverished working class as the born criminal (which also served nicely to direct attention away from corporate or state crime). One of the most pernicious and insulting “ideas” of phony criminology in recent years is the notion of so-called suicide by cop. This fake theory has been mostly promoted and peddled by cops and former cops posing as criminologists (and using this “research” to secure plum faculty positions in universities). It has been used largely to get killer cops off the hook in criminal proceedings and thus the suicide by cop specialists typically make their services available to police associations and defense teams trying to protect cops in the rare trials and inquiries that police who kill civilians are subjected to.

In 2017 an inquest will be held into the police killing of 44-year-old Roy Thomas Bell in 2007 in Winnipeg. The bogus notion of suicide by cop will play a key part in this. In January, a standing hearing will be held to determine who will be allowed to participate in the inquest.

Roy Thomas Bell was a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who was killed in December 2007 by police officers responding to a 911 call. Friends of the victim suggest that he had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after having served in the military for over 20 years prior to his release from the forces in 2004.

According to a provincial news release Bell threatened arriving officers with  some form of weapon described as nothing more than two sticks connected by a chain (would be nunchucks). Police had erroneously claimed at the time of the killing that Bell had a firearm and a bat. This was not proven out. Still police tased the man before firing their handguns, with multiple shots hitting the victim. Bell was transported to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Witnesses at the time reportedly heard Bell say the officers should shoot him and this has given the police the in they needed to use the suicide by cop excuse. Never mind that the man only held basic nunchucks yet was shot seral times by police. Never mind too that someone asking the cops to shoot them would seem to pose little threat to them and would probably necessitate an alternative response. Any cop responding to such a request affirmatively should be seriously questioned.

The inquest has been called by the chief medical examiner under the Fatality Inquiries Act and will examine the circumstances and events surrounding the killing. Such inquests typically make non-binding recommendations about measures to lessen the likelihood of such incidents in the future.

There are real concerns here that phony criminologists will be allowed to participate and peddle their bogus suicide by cop obfuscations and legitimation. Thus such an inquiry can become an ideological tool to justify the killing by police in question as well as providing a precedent for justifying future killings on these nonsensical grounds.

Breaking the General Strike: The Mounties Kill Strikers Mike Sokowolski and Mike Schezerbanowicz in Winnipeg (Activists Killed by Cops Series)

The Winnipeg General Strike of May and June 1919 stands as perhaps the signal moment of working class resistance and open class conflict in the industrial Canadian context. It remains a still resonant example of working class militance, organization, resolve, solidarity, and vision. It stands too as an unmistakeable symbol of the violence, repression, and racism at the core of the Canadian state. The Winnipeg General Strike offers a clear reminder of the state connection with and willingness to act in support of capital, and to do so using all means in its monopoly of violence. It also shows the racism of the Canadian state and its willingness to divide and conquer workers on the basis of ethnic background and/or national origin. Finally it shows the readiness of the state, and its major cultural symbol (the RCMP in its earlier incarnation as the Northwest Mounted Police), to kill. Labor historian Edward Seymour describes the reaction to the strike by government authorities at all levels as simply “vicious” (1976, 19).


Class Rule in Winnipeg

Labor historian David Bercuson suggests that business in Winnipeg was anti-union from the start, with unions viewed as an impediment to the climate in which business and investment could grow and prosper in the emerging industrial center (1975, 1–2). While this was certainly true of virtually all other cities, Bercuson argues that what was somewhat unique in Winnipeg was the extent to which the city was run by business associations and the particular costs of trade with national and international markets given the city’s isolation and distance and the associated higher transportation costs compared with say Toronto or Montreal. This great distance from both supply sources and markets impelled an obsession with keeping costs (labor particularly) unsustainably low (Bercuson 1975, 2).

In addition to these factors, Bercuson adds another, more curious one. This, he says, was the history of Social Darwinism prevalent among the ruling elite in Winnipeg. He notes that many of Winnipeg’s industrial and political leaders were nouveaux riches who had humble beginnings but had made it rich in the growing boom town. They took their success as a sign of personal strength, even superiority, and saw this as a sign that they were natural, and legitimate, leaders. The self-made man could not sympathize with those who, because of personal weakness, needed to organize collectively with others (Bercuson 1975, 2).

Winnipeg had experienced many, often bitter, strikes in the first decades of the twentieth century. Workers sought recognition of unions and collective agreements while bosses were largely successful in keeping unions out of workplaces. Throughout, local government dominated by businesspeople, invariably sided with employers and owners.



The War Economy and Class Struggle

Economic pressures and political dissatisfaction contributed to growing tensions between labor and management by 1918, the last year of the war. While workers were making the sacrifices of the war, employees did not want to share any of the benefits of economic gains within the war economy.

Bercuson suggests that inflation during the war period played, in his view, the most important part in stoking industrial conflict over the war years and in the period immediately following the end of the war (1975, 4). Inflation meant that those workers outside of the war industries and munitions manufacturing especially who could not achieve significant wage gains were faced with declining standards of living and rising costs (Bercuson 1975, 4). In Winnipeg, few workers worked in the arms industries so most were faced with declining living standards throughout the war years and beyond.

At the same time, labor shortages among skilled workers in particular meant that conditions for union organizing were favorable. This was also fueled by general anger among workers over conscription, the compulsory military service program initiated by Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917. Indeed the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) came to advocate a national general strike against conscription in 1917 (Bercuson 1975, 5). While the planned general strike did not come off, it planted the notion of the tactic of mass opposition to government and capital in the general intellect of workers across the country.

This was a period before full legal standing and recognition for unions and employers could routinely seek and receive court injunctions against picketing during strikes. This allowed bosses to bring in scabs and continue production contributing mightily to the regular defeat of strikes. In Winnipeg in 1917 alone, three strikes had been defeated in this very manner (Bercuson 1975, 6).


The 1918 “General Strike”

In April 1918, strikes of three unions of civic employees generated discussions of sympathy strikes of all civic workers (Bercuson 1975, 6).  When the unions reached a tentative agreement with a committee including the mayor and members of council, the city council, through Alderman F.O. Fowler sought to add an amendment that city employees take a no strike pledge for the future. The “Fowler Amendment” looked to take away city workers’ right to strike and was supported by the Winnipeg Board of Trade and the Free Press. It was vehemently opposed by the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council (Bercuson 1975, 6).

In response to the Fowler Amendment, city firefighters stopped work the very next day. Ten days later, 13 trades, amounting to 7000 workers, had joined in the work stoppage. Water, fire, light and power, telephone, railway maintenance, and public transportation were impacted (Bercuson 1975, 7).

The Board of Trade futilely tried to keep operations running by supplying scabs. Desperate, and facing growing momentum for workers and a rising movement the city government turned to a new private grouping to negotiate with the unions. This Citizens’ Committee of One Hundred came to an agreement with the workers that was almost the same as the initial one of May 13, 1918. This new agreement was accepted by a somewhat chastened city council and the strike ended on May 24. According to Bercuson the “workers’ victory was almost complete” (1975, 7).

The conclusions of this 1918 general strike were unmistakeable. The general strike had won the day in a context in which unions acting alone were always losing. It was only this combined and coordinated power that had allowed the workers to win, let alone to win so convincingly. It was well recognized that each union acting on its own would have been defeated (Bercuson 1975, 7). Another outcome was to radicalize workers who now saw greater possibilities for gains and were not as willing to accept less. The employers had the government and courts on their side and could use them. Yet workers united in a general strike could defeat even that combined force of elites.

This was further reinforced when a hoped for general strike in support of the Metal Trades Council in July of 1918 did not materialize and the metal workers were defeated. And this even as the Metal Trades Council had achieved a combination of unions in the industry. The civic workers had gained support of workers in all industries.

In recognition of this fact, in December 1918 the Trades ad Labour Council passed a motion that gave it the power to call out on strike every union member in the city based on a straight majority of all the city’s union members (Bercuson 1975, 8). This mechanism would come into effect only a few months later.


A Radical Period and the Rise of the One Big Union

The end of the war brought new and renewed hopes that the sacrifices made by so many would be rewarded with a new social foundation of justice and improved social equality. Yet the hopes of most were soon dashed by governments that sought a return to the pre-war status quo. This led to growing discontent and resentment. Not only among industrial workers but among a cross section of Canadian residents, including returning veterans who felt cheated and lied to.

Another factor of inestimable significance in this context was the revolutionary wave sweeping Europe in the post-war period. Revolutions in Russia in 1917 and Germany and Hungary in 1918 suggested that real social change was no pipe dream and could be had for those willing to fight for it. There was no need simply to wait or be patient. Waiting was now seen as a chump’s game, a boss’s dream.

At a Western Labour Conference held in Calgary on March 16, 1919, participants moved for secession from the conservative, craft dominated TLC. They called for a new national labor body organized on industrial lines, rather than by each craft within an industry. The new grouping would be called the OBU, the One Big Union. In structure and approach it resembled syndicalist organizing as in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The OBU was an explicitly radical formation, not anarchist, supportive of the Bolshevik revolution and influenced by Marxism.

They sought a referendum to see if Canadian workers supported a national general strike beginning on June 1 in demand of the 30 hour work week (Bercuson 1975, 12). The OBU was formally launched during the first week of June at a founding convention in Calgary. At that point the Winnipeg General Strike was into its third week. The OBU provided the nightmare figure for government and employers in Winnipeg even though it had played no direct part in the strike to that point.


The Winnipeg General Strike

The Winnipeg General Strike was founded in conflicts in the metal and building trades during April and May of 1919. Lack of progress in making gains in wages, for the buildings trades, and union recognition, for the metals trade, led to a call for a general strike vote under the Trades Council motion of December 1918. Facing a stalemate the Building Trades Council called for a strike of their members for May 1, Mayday, 1919.

The Metal Trades Council, a grouping of craft unions representing workers in contract shops, auto repair, etc. had waged and lost nasty strikes in 1906, 1917, and 1918 (Bercuson 1975, 14). In 1919 they again pressed their attempt for higher wages and the 44 hour work week but were rebuffed by contract shop owners who felt every reason to be confident they could win against yet another union effort. The contractors had benefitted from use of injunctions and had deployed professional strikebreaking firms against the metal workers in the past (Bercuson 1975, 14). The recalcitrant metal works companies were Darwin Bridge, Vulcan Ironworks, and the Manitoba Bridge Company. The MTC sought a nine hour work day and full recognition for unions. On May 2, 1919, the metal workers responded to employers’ intransigence, especially that of the big employers, with a third strike in three years. They sought a shorter work week, wage parity with workers in the railway shops, and union recognition (Bercuson 1975, 15).

At this point the broader union movement in the city was ready for action in defense of their interests. Three trades were on or facing strike action. Others had recently concluded nasty negotiations and were left angered by the process. During the weekly Trade Council meeting of May 6, it was reported that a visiting worker of German origin, attending metal trades shops on behalf of his local, had been arrested. Upon release he spoke to the meeting of government backing employers (Bercuson 1975, 16). The Trades Council meeting decided to poll every union member in the city on their support for a general strike with a decision to be taken at the meeting of May 13. The results of the voting would show more than 11,000 workers in support of the general strike while only a tiny number of 500 were opposed (Bercuson 1975, 17). Thursday, May 15 at 11 AM was decided upon as the start time for the strike.

A Strike Committee was formed that would include three delegates from each of the unions represented on the Trades Council. They would act as the representative body for future negotiations during the strike.

The situation in the metal trades was dire as employers refused even the slightest hint of compromise. Efforts by Premier Tobias Norris and Mayor Charles Frederick Gray to avoid the strike were unsuccessful. A last ditch effort of May 14 by Gray, Norris, and the provincial attorney-general also failed.

At 11 AM on May 15, 1919, Winnipeg was on strike. The response to the call was near total. Within the first day more than 22,000 workers were out on strike (Bercuson 1975, 17–18). Participation by workers was unanimous in 94 of 96 unions involved in the strike (Bercuson 1975, 18). As Bercuson illustrates:


“Firemen left their stations, telephones were shut down, the city’s electrical workers left turbines and transmission equipment unattended; telegraphers and others responsible for keeping a modern city in touch with the world refused to work. At the waterworks a skeleton staff remained behind at the request of the Trades Council to provide a meagre thirty pounds pressure, sufficient for single-story dwellings. Commercial establishments of every sort, from moving-picture houses to restaurants were closed.” (1975, 18)


In British Columbia 60,000 workers walked out in sympathy strikes. Alberta railway shop workers walked out. Support was also strong in Ontario with 15,000 workers going on strike (Seymour 1976, 19).

To understand the participation of workers requires appreciation of the decades of bitter struggle preceding it and the sense among workers that there was no alternative option. This was a context of open class war and bitter hostility between labor and capital. Yet only one side was ready and prepared to use force.

Most strikers did not see themselves as a revolutionary force. For their part the strike leaders took a cautious approach, refusing even to condone peaceful pickets (Bercuson 1975, 20). To allow for distribution of essentials like milk and food the Strike Committee took the advice of J.W. Carruthers, owner of the Crescent Creamery Company, and issued cards to delivery workers informing the public that those doing bread and milk deliveries were not scabs (Bercuson 1975, 20–21). The Strike Committee issued cards stating: “Permitted by authority of Strike Committee” (Bercuson 1975, 21). For local government this was portentous, raising the prospect of workers taking over and managing effectively public services.

The mayor did not want civilians realizing that necessities of life could be provided by a structure outside of the government or its authority. Government did not want to allow the appearance that city administration could be taken over by city workers, who knew how to do the work and did it well, with no need for the government as a middle manager. In an error of strategy the Strike Committee succumbed to a vote of council on May 20 and complied by removing the cards the following day.

Prime Minister Borden, insistent in sending a strong anti-communist message and securing the Canadian state some recognition as a reliable emerging imperialist convoy, would not accept even a settlement that gave the appearance of some success for the striking workers. He would only allow total defeat for the strike or a capitulationist settlement that made clear the workers had been forced to swallow employer demands (Bercuson 1975, 22). Indeed the federal government would play an active and central role in the defeat of the strike. Commissioner A.B. Perry and the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) would be a major player in those government actions against the strike.


Police Force

Concerned that the regular police were not reliably anti-workers, anti-strike forces led by Brigadier-General H.D.B. Ketchen, commanding officer for the Manitoba military district proposed formation of an alternative force of “special police” to replace or add to the regular force (Bercuson 1975, 22). The city at the behest of Ketchen and Citizens’ Committee recruited the special police drawing primarily from anti-strike veterans and middle strata students. The “specials” were actually paid $6 per day, a wage that was higher than that paid to regular police, showing the hypocrisy and political character of the government and employers alike. It also showed the real lack of concern with legitimacy and the ease with which elites jettison such pretensions when their class interests are up against the wall. When the newly recruited special force was around 2000 members, most of the regular force, nearly 240 officers, was fired. From June 10, Winnipeg was under control pf thousands of men who were openly hostile to the strikers and the strike and who were entirely incompetent and untrained. The specials constituted a gang, a thug force, on city payroll. They immediately set about using physical violence to break up even small public meetings of strikers.

The connection of the police to the military and the engagement in social war by government were unmistakeable. A militia composed largely of volunteers was organized with about 5000 volunteers (Seymour 1976, 17). Ketchen coordinated activities of the NWMP and set up a training program for the newly recruited militia. Former officers were brought in to command the militia. The willingness of the federal government to use lethal force against civilians was clear. Ottawa secretly shipped machine guns to Winnipeg under cover of “regimental baggage” among the freight of the demobilizing 27th Battalion (Bercuson 1975, 23). Ketchen also had an armored vehicle made available for forces in the city. An armored car fitted with three machine guns and holding six sharp shooters was ready and available at Fort Osborne Barracks (Bercuson 1975, 23). The NWMP were issued four machine guns mounted on trucks (Bercuson 1975, 23). They had 60 mounted forces ready for quick deployment. Two mobile militia troops with a motorized machine gun section with two guns apiece, mobilized infantry escorts and a company of motorized infantry were also available (Bercuson 1975, 24). Ketchen had at least 800 troop forces available in addition to the specials and other militia members.


There Are No Neutral’s There: State and Capital United against Workers in Winnipeg

Opposition to the strike consisted of the powerful alliance of employers and government. They were supported by Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand, an anti-union, anti-strike grouping positioned as the voice of “neutral” residents but which was anything but. The Citizens’ Committee was based on the Citizens’ Committee of One Hundred and included members of the Board of Trade, the Manufacturers’ Association, and the Winnipeg bar (Bercuson 1975, 18). Notable members included elites such as H.B. Lyall, an official with Manitoba Bridge and Board of Trade member; A.L. Crossin, a broker with Oldfield, Kirby, and Gardner, an insurance and loan firm, who was also a member of the Board of Trade; J.E. Botterell a senior partner in Baird and Botterell, a grain and stock brokerage, who was also with the Board of Trade; and Isaac Pitblado, a senior partner of the law firm, Pitblado, Hoskin, and Company, that handled the personal business affairs of the federal Minister of the Interior, Arthur Meighen (Bercuson 1975, 18–19).  The Chair of the Committee was A.K. Godfrey, an executive with the Canadian elevator company who was the president of the Board of Trade in 1917 and 1918.

The Committee supported the employers against the workers and provided thousands of volunteers to scab on the strikers (Bercuson 1975, 18). They also waged an ideological battle against the strikers, branding the union leaders as Bolsheviks. In the words of one striker: “The man who goes out to fight for his master is a brave Briton. The man who comes home to fight for his Mrs. is a bloomin Bolshevik” (quoted in Seymour 1976, 21). With access to secret government conferences they also advised the contract shop owners over the course of the strike (Bercuson 1975, 18).

The Winnipeg General Strike made clear in unquestionable terms the role of the state as an active, forceful supporter of capital rather than a neutral arbitrator. Rather than being disinterested players in disputes, as much criminology and legal studies of the liberal democratic state insist, the state acted in an interested manner on behalf of capital. They actively and consistently took sides. Both the federal and provincial governments immediately intervened on behalf of employers. Striking workers faced the combined efforts and forces of employers and governments. This meant that they faced the legal, political, and military force of the state acting on behalf of the employers they sought to gain concessions from.

Gideon Robertson launched an ideological campaign against the OBU blaming it for trying to foment revolution. He also set a deadline for a forced return to work of post-office workers. Postal workers were ordered back to work under conditions that they sign a pledge not to strike in the future. As the deadline passed the majority of postal workers in Winnipeg were fired and replaced with scab volunteers (Bercuson 1975, 19). The federal government fired 190 postal workers in Winnipeg when they refused to sign the anti-strike pledge. This mechanism of ultimatum and imposed deadline became the preferred means for treating all government employees. It was used against railway mail clerks, provincial telephone employees, firefighters, clerks, and waterworks workers at the city level. Most refused the ultimatums and were fired.

The federal government under Borden was unified in their opposition to the strike and in their commitment to defeat the workers on behalf of capital and the national (bourgeois) interest. They condemned the strike as a revolution. As in other cases like On to Ottawa two decades later the Prime Minister and cabinet expressed a fear that workers would overturn the established (exploitative) order, and pose a real alternative to existing structures of authority. Minister of the Interior, and future Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen saw in Winnipeg the possibility of a single union in Canada with the power to call a single general strike. This was clearly a sign of the immense power of labor if it ever organized jointly and in a united manner.

And working class unity was key. In virtually every lengthy strike there is an attempt by employers and/or government to split the membership. Often this involves targeting some members as militants and blaming them for intransigence. This often happens through efforts to make a minor offer that might satisfy some conservative demands, gaining some member support, while ignoring or overlooking other significant demands. So-called radicals are then posed as being unreasonable or asking for demands that cannot be granted at the expense of the discomfort of other members who have to endure an unnecessarily long strike.

Four weeks into the general strike Senator Robinson made a move to divide strikers and isolate radicals on the strike committee. On June 16 he secured an agreement from the contract shop employers to recognize craft unions in their workplaces. This did not include recognition of the Metal Trades Council. Robertson published this agreement in the newspapers to move public opinion against the strikers. At the same time the Senator ordered the arrests of Strike Committee radicals under dubious circumstances. Unfortunately moderates on the committee fell into Robertson’s trap and began negotiations to end the strike under the June 16 offer conditions (Bercuson 1975, 25).


The Violence of Law: Pernicious Legal Action then and Now

At this point one of the shameful episodes in Canadian state history unfolded. Legislation was introduced in the House of Commons to amend the Immigration Act to allow for the deportation of British subjects not born in Canada. On June 6 the federal government had, in only one hour of discussion, passed amendments to the Immigration Act to allow easier arrest and deportation of so-called “enemy aliens.” In another attempt at divide and conquer the government sought to split workers on the basis of ethnicity, heritage, or national origin. The legislation passed three readings without debate in 20 minutes. It was granted approval by Senate and given Royal Assent in under an hour, which was the quickest passage of legislation in the history of Canadian parliament (Seymour 1976, 20).

Amendments were also made to the Criminal Code section on sedition. The infamous Section 98 was passed which made it a crime to belong to an association that had as a purpose the change of government, industry, or economy through use of force or through advocacy or defense of the use of force (Seymour 1976, 20). Note that this could punish someone simply for defending the use of direct action or armed struggle. The offense was punishable by a maximum sentence of twenty years. One could be imprisoned for up to 20 years simply for printing, importing, distributing, or selling any material that either advocated or defended the use of force (Seymour 1976, 20). The Section 98 was an explicitly anti-communist amendment aimed at criminalizing working class struggle, peoples’ resistance, and anti-capitalism.

Anyone targeted in this way could be subjected to seizure of any property belonging to or even suspected of belonging to such an association. The property could be seized without warrant and forfeited to the Crown if it had simply been shown that a person had attended meeting of such a group, distributed its literature, or spoken publicly in support of it in some way (Seymour 1976, 20). Notably there was a reverse onus in play, counter to legal standards in liberal democracies, such that an accused had to prove they had not acted in defense of such a group rather than, as is regular legal practice, the state carrying the burden of proof.

Significantly, and of great note, these measures are precisely the same as have been restored since 2001 in Liberal and Conservative federal government Anti-Terror Acts. This should be troubling to the contemporary reader.

In the early morning of June 18 several strike leaders and supporters were arrested including some under authority of the newly amended Immigration Act and taken to Stony Mountain penitentiary where they were held while the government worked to deport those it could. The arrested included R.B. Russell, secretary of the MTC, George Armstrong, a streetcar motor person, William Ivens, editor of the Western Labour News and a key spokesperson for labor, A.A. Heaps, a labor representative on Winnipeg Municipal Council, and John Queen, alderperson for Winnipeg’s Ward V (Seymour 1976, 20). The arrests provoked outrage nationally. The MTC in Toronto called for a general strike to release the strike leaders. Miners in Cape Breton wired Ottawa to say: “We pledge ourselves to do all we can to bring about a general strike all over Canada (quoted in Seymour 1976, 20). Meighen sought their immediate deportation. Others, including A.J. Andrews, were concerned this would turn public opinion against the government and it was decided the men would be released on bail if they agreed to participate no longer in the strike (Bercuson 1975, 25).


Not What They Fought For: Veterans Support the Strike

By this point, however, the flow of events was beyond the grasp of the Strike Committee and other forces were taking center stage. Among them were thousands of World War One veterans who, disillusioned by the lack of improvement in working and social conditions, which they believed they had fought for, after the war, were solidly in support of the strike and its aims. Returned veterans rejected a Citizens’ Committee request to oppose the general strike and the strikers. Quite the contrary, a mass rally of 10,000 ex-soldiers demonstrated at the provincial legislature to demand an immediate settlement to the strike, legislation to protect collective bargaining, and withdrawal of ultimatums to striking public sector workers (Seymour 1976, 19).

As the general strike went on these veterans groupings became more and more vocal and militant (Bercuson 1975, 25). They began organizing lively public demonstrations of support for the general strike. Starting at the end of May they undertook mass parades throughout the streets of downtown Winnipeg, often marching to the legislature, City Hall, or the Headquarters of the Citizens’ Committees (Bercuson 1975, 25). This was an open show of strength, solidarity, and resolve on behalf of the strike and in opposition to the forces of the government, business, and reaction. They also held loud rallies and assemblies in Victoria Park hosting speakers from the Strike Committee and others in support of the Strike (Bercuson 1975, 25).

In response to this reactionary veterans organized counter-demonstrations against the strike. The Mayor came to issue bans on parades on multiple occasions during the strike, bans which more negatively impacted strikers given the size and strength of the pro-strike veterans’ groupings.

In response to the arrests of radical strike leaders and the threats of deportation, and the restarting of street cars, the strike supporting veterans decided on June 20, in a mass rally outside City Hall, to hold a protest the following day.

The next morning, Robertson, Gray, and NWMP Commissioner A.B. Perry met with delegates of the veterans groups to try to avert the demonstration. They could not or would not agree to meet the veterans’ demands of removing the street cars from the streets, settling the strike within four hours, and speaking with the Citizens Committee to convey this (Bercuson 1975, 25). For his part Andrews threatened the veterans with resorting to “other measures” to stop the parade, a clear implication of possible force and violence by police (Bercuson 1975, 26).


Bloody Saturday

As mass crowds gathered across from City Hall in preparation for the march, Acting Police Chief Newton informed Mayor Gray that the force of specials was not prepared to deal with a crowd of that size. Newton agreed with Gray’s assessment that the NWMP be called in and Gray was off to the Mounties’ headquarters to ask Commissioner Perry to intervene. Perry was more than happy to oblige and directed 54 mounted officers and 36 in trucks to take the streets.

By the 2:30 PM parade start time several hundred people had already taken to the streets in an attempt to stop the street cars that had foolishly been driven into the area (which could only be taken as a provocation). Two cars were stopped near City Hall with one taken off its wires and its windows broken

It was at this point that the NWMP arrived on scene and charged the crowd. On multiple runs through the assembled gathering they swung batons on veterans and strikers. The police were met on the second charge with rocks and bottles from the crowd. On a third charge the Mounties brandished cocked revolvers (Bercuson 1975, 27). At 2:35 PM Mayor Gray entered a parapet at City Hall and gave formal reading of the Riot Act. He gave the assembled protesters 30 minutes to leave the streets or face arrests. Before he could even return back inside City Hall he heard the NWMP officers fire into the crowd of civilians.

The order to shoot was given by NWMP Inspector Mead who, perhaps in a moment of panic, had determined to put down the crowd following the second mounted charge. The first shots were fired only moments after Gray had given protesters half an hour to disperse and the shooting by police continued over a terrifying period of several minutes

In the volleys of shots striker Mike Sokowolski was killed instantly, shot in the heart. On the whole around 100 people were injured in the police assault. Striker Mike Schezerbanowicz, shot in the legs, would later die of gangrene resulting from his injuries as inflicted by police gunfire.

Police and the City tried in the aftermath of the police assault to blame protesters for firing a shot but it has been determined that no shots came from the crowd, the only shots came from police. The RNWMP officer in command provided the following account of the assault: “About 120 bullets in all were fired into the crowd of men, women, and children. They were not marching around the streets but standing in front of the City Hall. Many were running away when we fired on them” (quoted in Seymour 1976, 20).

Indeed the police claim of initial fire from their targets is a common and ongoing ploy used to justify shooting and killing civilians. It is an excuse that is used falsely in cases right up to the present day. Not a single NWMP officer was hit by any gunfire. Even Inspector Mead acknowledged that he gave the order to fire out of a desperate desire to disperse the crowd, not because he was responding to any shots fired by anyone in the crowd.

As fearful members of the crowd attempted to disperse they were set upon by NWMP officers and specials who took advantage of the situation to brutalize fleeing marchers and take out their animosity toward strikers and the strike. As if this were not enough the state piled on further. General Ketchen released the militia who arrived in the city’s downtown within minutes thanks to auxiliary transport provided by the Citizens’ Committee (Bercuson 1975, 27). The militia brought the militarized machine gun section supported by cavalry. More than 80 marchers were trapped by police and arrested.

By evening the NWMP, militia, and specials had secured several blocks of the downtown area and kept the scene clear until the next day.

After Bloody Saturday Winnipeg was placed under military control. Four days after Bloody Saturday the Strike Committee called off the general strike, effective June 26. After six weeks, the largest General Strike in North America at that time, the strikers had gained none of their demands. Thousands of workers were blacklisted after the strike. Union meetings were banned in Winnipeg (Seymour 1976, 21).

The violent alliance of state and capital had proven too much to overcome, even as the strikers could have won the day had capital not been able to rely on the force of the state.

And this is the key lesson. While many talk of the separation of state and market, the capitalist “free market” or invisible hand of the market, in Canada as elsewhere there has never been a capitalist market without the sustaining power of the armed monopoly of the state. And no such market could even exist without it.


Lessons Learned

The failure of the strikers was in failing to move to a dual power situation in which they would maintain and provide essential services on the basis of their control of labor power and knowledge and capacity of the services in question, outside of government or business. Furthermore, they underestimated or misunderstood the role of government, at all levels, in violently buttressing capital and the state’s willingness to deploy lethal force to maintain capitalist social order. The strikers never seriously considered the necessity of armed defense of the strike and left the military field to police alone. This despite the great support they held among veterans.

The Winnipeg General Strike posed a real material alternative to established state capitalist order. This frightened business and government both. Unfortunately the general strike requires that workers, as those who produce and deliver goods and services, assume some of the roles of economic and social service provision. In doing this in a spirit of solidarity rather than social service or charity, they can show a better way of social organizing and justice. They can also build relationships of solidarity with other civilians that social service and charity providers cannot. This is a basis of mutual aid as the organizing principle for social relations.

As David Bercuson suggests: “The rapid increase of labour’s power in Winnipeg was a shock to the cozy arrangements and alliances that had existed between capital and government for at least four decades” (1975, 29). Unfortunately the strikers failed to understand or assess the role of the state, taking a fatally liberal approach that the state would serve merely as honest brokers or reasonable arbitrators.

As Bercuson notes: “The leaders of the strike urged their followers to hold to a non-violent course so they could avoid open confrontation with the government and its police and military forces. They did not realize that this confrontation actually began at eleven A.M. the morning of May 15” (1975, 29). This was social war but it was only being waged fully by one side, that of capital and its allies in state.

Historian Irving Abella suggests that decades of trauma for the labor movement in Canada followed from the suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike (1975, xii). While the movement had high hopes and solid prospects prior to Winnipeg, the actions of the state and capital left the movement in disarray and started a process of declin

While union membership union membership and organization had expanded quickly during the war, after the state violence in Winnipeg, membership declined dramatically throughout the 1920s with organizations paralyzed and leadership divided against itself (Abella 1975, xii). This decline would not be reversed until the years of the Second World War when labor again made significant gains. And the decline was impelled by the force of the state and the use of police to attack, and kill, working people simply organizing to improve their lives.



Abella, Irving. 1975. “Introduction.” In On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919–1949, Irving Abella (ed.). Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, xi–xv

Bercuson, David. 1975. “The Winnipeg General Strike.” In On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919–1949, Irving Abella (ed.). Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1–32

Seymour, Edward E. 1976. An Illustrated History of Canadian Labour 1800-1974. Canadian Labour Congress: Ottawa