***It’s going to take a little while to get there, but this posts’ reading is Peter Edwards ‘One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police, and the Ipperwash Crisis.‘  I had long planned to do a post on Edwards’ excellent book, as well as a separate one about the leadership issues that this post begins with.  It took a while, but the two subjects sort of merged together over the last week and a half.  So here we are.***

Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ) is the first formal piece of training that a soldier undergoes to become an NCO.  It’s divided up into a bunch of modules or ‘Mods’ and in the Reserves it’s not uncommon for the would be leader to undertake these Mods over the course of an entire year or more, depending on availability.

When I did it, there were six Mods.  It’s now been changed to four, but in 2005 it was six.  The first five include: Leading PT, Teaching, Small Arms Range, Military Law, and General Service Knowledge and all could be carried out over weekend training.  The Mod Six was a residency portion that focused on learning Battle Procedure and leading small party tasks and commanding a section, but it was generally referred to as ‘the Field Portion’ since it was structured around a two week exercise in the field.  ‘The field portion’ had the highest failure rate (with Teaching coming in as a close second) mainly because it was the point where the rubber hit the road and the would-be Master Jack had to actually look up from their notepad and give direction to a bunch of sleep-deprived colleagues.

Some people rise to the occasion, others (like me) manage to get by.  But some will fail.

I’ve described Battle Procedure in this blog before.  It’s the doctrine that covers how a leader approaches a fluid situation, receives a task, gathers the information they need, then formulates a plan to execute the task.  It’s divided into 15 Steps[1] and the plan/orders it produces are divided into five sub-headings.  The whole process is actually pretty well structured and once you understood how all the pieces came together it made a certain amount of intuitive sense.  On course however, most of us were being introduced to Battle Procedure for the first time, and were struggling to fit what seemed like arbitrary steps into a shrinking time frame through a fog of exhaustion and stress.

Looking back on it (and having taught PLQ myself), it’s really not that hard.  But at the time, tempers could flare easily and at least two people on my course failed simply by breaking down and giving up.[2]  When you’re trying to hit all the points on the assessment form and the writing is starting to distort on your own notepad, you cling to anything ‘standardized‘ like a drowning man clutching a life preserver.

And this is where things can be a problem.

The Five Headings in a standard CAF orders format are: Situation, Mission, Execution, Service & Support, Command & Signals.  People tend to zero in on Execution since that’s the one that tends to be the largest, as well as the one where the individual leader has the most input, but they’re all vital and there’s a tendency to rush through the rest of it.

I’m going to talk about ‘Situation’ here today.  Situation is divided into the sub-headings of: Enemy, Friendly, Local Population, Terrain & Weather, and Commander’s Intent.[3]

Basically, it’s a briefing about what the enemy’s doing, what your neighbouring friendly units are up to, what’s going on with the local population (if any) and if there’s been any significant changes in the environment (eg: flooding has rendered an area impassable, building frequently used as an OP has burned down, etc…).  It concludes with a statement of what the commander (two levels up, usually Company or higher) wants to get done in the near future.  This gives the lower-level leadership some parameters on what they’re allowed to do in the event of something unexpected.

The problem on course was that this was usually delivered as a standard boilerplate statement at the start of orders, to the point that some of the candidates were just passing their notes from one person the next, recycling their Situation for each cycle of tasks.  This drove me crazy.  As you’ve probably noticed, in addition to being a historian by education, I’m also a huge nerd.  This makes me extra sensitive to continuity errors.  I can remember multiple occasions where I had to grit my teeth to keep from blurting out “No!  3 Platoon is establishing a boundary along Warner Rd to prevent enemy ex-filtration to the west!  Were you even listening when the officer spoke?”

The fact that our section commander didn’t care wasn’t helping.[4]

So when stuff like this happens on course, it’s annoying.  In real life though it becomes a dangerous habit to keep. Something I try to hammer into the young Master-Jacks’ heads is that ‘Situation’ is one of the key building blocks for the plan.  In real life it will constantly be changing and these changes will have to be reflected in your plan.  The last time I taught PLQ I deliberately threw a wrench into the works by changing the Situation part of their orders for each candidate in ways that would force them to alter the parameters of their mission.  Assuming they paid attention.  The resulting failures pissed everyone off, even the other teaching staff.[5]

I haven’t taught PLQ in a long time (I prefer working with recruits or teaching technical courses), but I’m worried that this is still a problem for young Master-Jacks.  There’s this unfortunate tendency to assume that, when you enter a given Area of Responsibility (AOR) you’re going to be handed a coherent ‘Situation’ report that will tell you everything you need to know.

Why is this a problem?

Because whatever the situation and whatever the mission you’re given, the end results are your responsibility.  Whatever you got told when the mission was passed down, it’s your job to adjust to whatever the situation on the ground may be.  There is no excuse for knowingly marching into an AOR that’s fucked because ‘…that’s what the officer told us to do (lolololol)!’

This is why the 15(?) steps of Battle Procedure includes ‘Conduct a Quick Map Study,‘ ‘Conduct a Detailed Map Study‘ and ‘Conduct a Preliminary Recce‘ as separate steps in the process.  In addition to the ‘Situation‘ you are handed in your orders, you are expected to gather/generate your own information to modify and update the plan.[6]

On the night of 6 Sept 1995, the Ontario Provincial Police descended upon Ipperwash Provincial Park to clear out a group of Chippewa and Ojibwe protesters from the nearby Kettle Point Reserve.  The park had once been a separate Reserve belonging to the same Chippewa called Stony Point but had been seized by the Canadian Government during the Second World War and turned into a training depot.  Decades later, with the army moving out, the descendants of the Stony Point Band started to move back in to re-occupy land that had once been theirs.

Their movement, such as it was, lacked any real definition or leadership.  This made the protest a confused and sporadic affair but in the summer of 1995 it had coalesced enough to result in an occupation of the former CFB Ipperwash and, in early September, Ipperwash Provincial Park as well.[7]

Then the police were deployed.

Information about the situation was sketchy.  Early reports made the occupation into another Oka Crisis (which was barely five years passed at this point) and rumours were flying of ‘militants‘ brandishing firearms and threatening the local ‘white’ population of Sarnia Ontario.  According to one widely circulated report, a mob of natives had swarmed a local resident’s car and pelted it with stones. Some of the reports at the time even described the protests as being controlled by a formal organization (dubbed the SPG or ‘Stony Point Group’), giving these incidents a disturbing, premeditated tone.

Under cover of darkness, and with OPP snipers providing over watch, the OPP riot squad deployed in line and advanced upon a group thirty or so protesters, beating their shields as they went.  A protester’s dog (off his leash) raced up to the line police line and was kicked out of the way, prompting many of the protesters to curse the police and begin throwing rocks and sticks.[8]

An older protester named Cecil ‘Slippery’ George (who was also a Band counsel member from Kettle Point) approached the police line, calling for calm.  The police reacted as though it was an attack and beat him viciously.  As Slippery George when down under a hail of baton-blows, the situation exploded.

A sixteen year old protester named Nicholas Cottrelle was standing nearby.  He didn’t know Slippery George particularly well, but he had gone to school with his son.  Horrified by what he was seeing, and armed with that stunning combination of courage and lack of foresight that so many young people seem to have, he raced over to a yellow school bus that was parked nearby. Jumping behind the wheel, he fired up the engine and, without any clear idea of how exactly how it was going to help the situation, drove the bus straight at the police van towards which Slippery George was being dragged.  Panic ensued as the riot squad lurched out of the way.  Burdened by armour and shields, they struggled to get out of the vehicle’s path, and several ended up falling into a ditch, adding to the confusion.

Cottrelle made it to the police van, but then stalled out and the bus was hit by a hail of gunfire from OPP.  Miraculously Nicholas Cottrelle survived with only minor injuries, and managed to reverse the bus away from the police line and escape.

In the midst of this chaos, another protester, Anthony ‘Dudley’ George, who was standing nearby and brandishing a stick that would later be described as ‘looking like a rifle,’ was shot and killed by the police snipers.[9]

The Ipperwash crisis was litigated and analyzed for years after.  Dudley George was dead. Slippery George was beaten to within an inch of his life. Nicholas Cottrelle had a bullet hole in his back.  For their part, despite the confusion of the night the OPP had no serious casualties whatsoever.  Hovering over all of this carnage was the question: Why?

Why was it necessary to storm into the park ready for a fight?

Tensions had been running high for months over the question of the Stony Point land claim, but it certainly hadn’t reached the point of being another Oka Crisis.  While Police communiques prior to the deployment had been filled with mentions of the ‘Stony Point Group’ no such organization had actually been identified.  In fact, the absence of a formal leadership structure among the protesters was part of the reason the demonstrations and occupations had continued; there was no one there to negotiate with.

At some points, the number of protesters in Ipperwash Park had numbered over a hundred.  On the night of the police raid is was barely two dozen.  As the weather got colder there was a real possibility that the occupation might have just died out for the winter, giving the various levels of government a reprieve to sort things.

There is a lot of speculation about pressure being applied from both the local municipal leadership as well as from the Provincial Premier, Mike Harris.  At least one Provincial official testified to Harris shouting “Get those fucking Indians out of the park!” during a cabinet meeting, although the Premier denied this. Nevertheless, the fact that the police were under pressure to produce results was clear.

That having been said, the Provincial Premier does not have direct operational control over the police.  The Premier could insist that the OPP clear the park, but the on site OPP commander would have the final say on how.

So why did they think that the situation warranted a riot squad with snipers giving cover?

The Ipperwash protesters were motivated but not particularly organized.  Dudley George in particular seemed to personify this.  A middle-aged man whose youth had been misspent on drugs and delinquency who’d cleaned up and found purpose when he became involved in the movement to reclaim the Stony Point Reserve from the Federal Government.  What he lacked in organizing skills, he made up for in enthusiasm and loyalty.  He was seen as one of those guys who would be there for every protest and every action, loud and proud.[10]

During the trials and inquiries, one incident in particular became a central focus as justification for the OPP response: The stone-throwing incident.  True, OPP surveillance of the Park had yet to confirm the presence of even a single gun, and despite all the talk about a shadowy ‘Stony Point Group‘ the OPP had failed to identify any kind of structure or hierarchy within the movement.  But wasn’t there a confirmed incident in which protesters had mobbed a car and thrown stones at it? Wasn’t that proof enough that the situation was escalating out of control and needed to be stabilized quickly?

You’re probably not going to be surprised by the answer…

So there’s two guys: Stewart ‘Worm’ George and Gerald ‘Booper’ George.  The former was a protester and supporter of the Ipperwash occupation, while the latter opposed it.  As the last name suggests, the two men were related, meaning that not only where they each acutely aware of the other’s opinion, they also took it personally.  On the morning before the police raid, Booper George was out running some errands which brought him past one of the picket lines the protesters had set up at the edge of Ipperwash Park.  There he encountered Worm George.

A couple of weeks earlier, Booper George had written a letter to the newspaper condemning the protests and occupations, accusing the Stony Point activists of acting like animals. Worm George was still furious over it.  For his part, Booper was equally unimpressed with the occupation, which had seen a number of instances of petty vandalism, mischief and disturbances.  He wasn’t about to be intimidated by a family member into abandoning his position.

The two men argued, and the argument got heated.  Booper finally got frustrated and drove off, but his final remarks must have struck a nerve because as he left, Worm lost his temper and threw a rock after the departing vehicle, putting a nasty gouge and dent one of the panels.

That was it.  That was the ‘stone throwing mob’ at Ipperwash.  Two cousins getting into a heated argument that led one to throw a rock at the other one’s car.[11]  In the aftermath of the shooting, this incident was blown out of proportion, with the unspoken assumption being made that the ‘mob‘ was all native while their victim(s) were ‘white.’  I can remember reading some of this in the newspaper at the time (I was in high school) and shaking my head in dismay over how the situation had gotten so out of control.

Realistically though, it was less a riot and more a domestic disturbance.

As is often the case, word spread, and the facts distorted as they travelled.  And for the arriving OPP task force, numbering nearly two hundred but with no local liaison on the ground to explain what was what, the rumour was taken as gospel.  As they deployed, the notion that they were facing a steadily escalating crisis that could erupt into a full blown standoff loomed large in everyone’s mind, making the pressure from the Provincial government that much more acute.

The story of a stone-throwing mob was seen as the final tipping point. Proof that the steadily escalating crisis had now crossed an irrevocable line. Without a local SME on the ground, there was no reason for the OPP commanders to question any of it.

Except there was such a local expert.

Prior to deploying to the Ipperwash protests, Inspector John Carson (Acting Superintendent and overall commander of the OPP task force at Ipperwash) did some research and discovered that a retired OPP officer named Ron (who was now a practising lawyer) not only lived in the area but was an Indigenous person and a member of the Kettle Point Band and knew many of the people involved in the protests by name.

Tragically, Insp Carson never had the chance to consult with Ron before that fatal September night where Dudley George was killed. Bogged down with the confusion of deploying a massive task force to Ipperwash and facing increasing pressure from the municipal and Provincial authorities, Carson never got around to seeking out the local experts.

I’ve said this before that I’m not Indigenous.  Not even partly so.  But I do feel like I have a personal stake in studying disasters like these.  Part of this is a niggling fear I have of finding myself in a similar crisis and making the same mistakes out of ignorance.  There is a mindset among junior leadership in the army (which also appears to show up at all levels) that when you receive your orders, that’s all there is.  That ‘the Situation‘ is solid and good to go, and there’s no need for anyone else to learn more once they’re on the ground.

There’s arguments to be made that Isnp Carson’s failure to seek out Ron was  negligent.  Perhaps even malicious.  Others insist that the OPP was being scapegoated to cover for the Provincial Premier’s overly aggressive orders.  People who’ve studied the incident in far greater detail than myself still come down on multiple sides of this argument.  But for our purposes here, I think the key takeaway is that ignorance is a vacuum that’s going to draw in something to fill it.  And there’s no rule that says this ‘something‘ is going to be hard facts or solid information.

Like the old saying goes, a lie will get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.

By now you may be noticing that a lot of the native people in this story share the last name ‘George.’  That’s not a coincidence.  Among the Indigenous communities living around around Kettle Point, the George family was exceptionally large.  In the years following the annexing of Stony Point by the government, multiple households of the George family would have children in double digits, resulting in a sprawling diaspora of native people named George.  Meaning that, wherever you looked, whichever side of the protest you were on, you would find someone with the last name George.

This included the OPP veteran and lawyer whom Insp Carson had hoped to consult prior to deploying into Ipperwash.  His full name was Ron ‘Spike’ George.


[1] It’s actually been changed a couple of times since then.  Just before I went, it was 17 Steps.  The fifteen steps I learned had two of the seventeen relegated to sub-points of the fifteen.  There was one point since then where they reduced the steps down to twelve, before stabilizing it again at fifteen.  Some people just can’t leave well enough alone.

[2] There was a joke about our main dormitory – building P-50 in Petawawa – which had the word ‘LEADERSHIP’ painted on the front in big black letters.  The joke was that the ‘D’ and the ‘L’ needed to be switched around.  It’s not that the course produces blades, but that the stress of the situations you’re in magnifies the effect of back-stabbing.

[3] Just as with the Mod system, the sub-headings change as well every few years.  Again, leave well enough alone!

[4] Everyone’s good for something, even if it’s setting an example of what not to do.

[5] Funnily enough, it was the really switched on Type-A personalities who seemed to most resent actually being challenged.

[6] This is a perennial question when it comes to patrolling: How do I do a Recce before my Recce patrol?  The short answer is ‘Take a look at where you’re going, talk to anyone who’s been there, and gather any other sources of information you can find (ie: aerial photography, SIGINT, etc…).’  A good example is some of the stuff I’ve been doing on this blog using google maps.

[7] Although claimed by the Ontario Provincial government under a different set of laws than the Federal government’s seizure of Stony Point, Ipperwash Provincial Park was part of the larger Stony Point Reserve and was at the time being added to the developing land claim.

[8] This literal ‘kick the dog moment‘ was described by witnesses in the trial that followed as the triggering event that set the confrontation off.  Until then it had seemed as though the protesters were drawing back and preparing to leave.

[9] A thing that needs to be pointed out is that, in the George family, nicknames were common and when one stuck, they often had the effect of replacing the individual’s name.  In the aftermath of the shooting many news outlets reporting on the story actually identified the victim of the shooting as Dudley George even though his legal given name was Anthony.

[10] When Ipperwash was still an army base, Dudley George made it a habit to moon the soldiers working there on a regular basis. Many of the troops serving there at the time actually knew him by name because of this.

[10] Well, technically it wasn’t even Booper George’s car.  He’d borrowed his sister’s car for the day.

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