Canada has quietly begun a campaign to compromise the process of public inquiries. It is believed the moves are in response to the political damage sustained during the abrubtly terminated Somalia Inquiry, and to the domestic and international pressure mounting for public inquiries into the actions of the authorities at Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) and Stoney Point (Ipperwash).
In the summer of 1995 Native people defending sacred sites were viciously attacked by armed police and paramilitary forces upon the instructions of the governments of British Columbia and Ontario. Two unarmed protestors were gunned down by police. Stoney Pointer Dudley George was killed. At Gustafsen Lake a woman with her hands up was shot with internationally prohibited hollow-point ammunition. She survived, but harsh sentences up to twenty-three years are being sought by the BC Attorney General for the now criminalized Ts'peten Defenders. By contrast Dudley George's killer, police sniper Kenneth Deane, was given a "conditional" sentence of two years less a day, will not go to jail and continues working as a police officer.
'Reforming Commissions of Inquiry' suggests procedural reforms including closed-door hearings, publication bans, and in many cases abolishing inquiries altogether. According to an article running today in Trilateral Commission member Conrad Black's Southam Newspaper chain, "experts say the government can avoid the difficulties that have plagued recent inquiries by carefully considering, when faced with a problem, whether a commission is really needed..."
"'We can avoid a lot of public inquiries,' said Bryan Schwartz, a University of Manitoba Law professor. 'We use them far too frequently.'"
The paper prepared by the Privy Council Office, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, says "in all cases, the decision of whether to appoint an inquiry is ultimately political." But University of Ottawa law professor Edward Ratushny believes changes contemplated would "effectively emasculate an inquiry."
The article "Report on public inquiries says they should be strictly a last resort" by Southam's Jim Bronskill (Vancouver Sun, July 14, 1997 P.A3) also includes recommendations by David Scott, the lawyer for Brigadier-General Ernest Beno at the Somalia inquiry. Scott characterizes inquiries as long, expensive, highly legalistic exercises which should "get to the bottom of it without selectively finding fault with individuals..." However Professor Ratushny said this means "you'd never get answers to the questions that have to be answered."
The NDP government of British Columbia, the Conservative Mike Harris government of Ontario, as well as the federal government continue to refuse all demands for inquiries into the Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash incidents.
Shuswap elder Wolverine, imprisoned since the Gustafsen Lake standoff, commented, "The government doesn't want an inquiry into Gustafsen Lake because the corruption runs from the RCMP through the Attorney General and the Solicitor General all the way to the Prime Minister's door. They don't want the truth to come out."
For links to politicians' emails, sample letters, petitions and more ideas on how to help, visit:
http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/gustlake/support.htmlThe petitions posted on the S.I.S.I.S. site demanding inquiries can be signed by email: send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org reading "I support the Stoney Point petition" and/or "I support the petition demanding an inquiry into Gustafsen Lake" along with your name and your city and province/state of residence.