Ipperwash contradictions

The final report from the Ipperwash inquiry was released today. The report aims to explain the events surrounding the death of native protester Dudley George by an OPP sniper’s bullet at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995.

Perhaps I’m being selective in my reading of the report, but from the “conclusions” section of the report it is written,

The evidence demonstrated that the Premier and his officials wanted the occupation to end quickly, but there is no evidence to suggest that either the Premier or any other official in his government was responsible for Mr. George’s death. — Page 675

So, is it unreasonable to be a bit put off by this CBC headline?

“Harris government, OPP errors led to Ipperwash death, inquiry finds.”

This headline implies that the Harris government and OPP are responsible for Mr. George’s death.

This headline from the Toronto Star goes a little bit further:

As I read the very important conclusion from the Ipperwash report above (the one about there being “no evidence to suggest that either the Premier or any other official in his government was responsible for Mr. George’s death.”), I’m surprised that the Toronto Star has found otherwise. The Star explicitly states fault (ie. responsibility) for the “Ipperwash death”.

Here’s the headline from the National Post:

This headline is truthful about the findings of the Ipperwash inquiry. The inquiry itself did find fault in the approach of the police, and the province in the handling of the Ipperwash protest (it is easy to conclude that the approach was “wrong” because somebody died… not the ideal conclusion to any event), but the inquiry did not find fault in the provincial government for the death of Mr. George.

It is easy to see why some confusion occurs when reading the conclusions of the report for the report also reads:

The federal government, the provincial government and the OPP must all assume some responsibility for decisions or failures that increased the risk of violence and make a tragic confrontation more likely

The report concludes that the federal and provincial governments along with the OPP did contribute to an atmosphere which may have heightened tensions.

But responsibility for George’s death?

“Mike Harris cleared of responsibility for Ipperwash death”

would have been an honest headline (since it’s actually the conclusion of the Ipperwash report)

The problem with these media summaries and with the Ipperwash report itself is that each tries to invest too much into associating the final event (the death of Mr. George) with distant policies, circumstances and unfortunate, immutable realities instead of between the direct action and final result. The report connects the failed land claims process and the provincial government’s preference (but not direction) for a quick (quick!) resolution to lawbreakers breaking laws to the events that led up to Dudley George’s death. However, neither Mike Harris nor the federal government are culpable for Mr. George’s death and the report indeed states this finding. One surely cannot assign blame for death to something so distant as failed land claims processes!