reprinted in 'Prison News Service'
On July 8, 1996 the B.C. Supreme Court trial of the Gustafsen Lake 18 began behind a bullet-proof, bomb-proof curtain of glass and steel in a "secure" anti-terrorist courtroom in Surrey, 30 km south of Vancouver. Thirteen men and five women, including four white supporters are charged with assorted offences ranging from trespass to attempted murder. These charges arise out of the month-long armed siege of the Ts'peten Sundance grounds last summer by ther largest and costliest R.C.M.P./army operation in Canadian history.
A jury of six women and six men is now hearing testimony from crown witnesses that must establish beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the native traditionalists and their white allies. The proceedings are historic. The testimonies and cross-examinations are dramatic and riveting. The issues raised are of fundamental importance to this province and this country.
So where is the media? The Vancouver Sun termed the trial "an expensive ho hummer". Maclean's Magazine: "as political theatre goes...neither fast-paced nor well-attended". TV and radio coverage has been rare.
The studied indifference of the mainstream media to the Gustafsen Lake trial is directly related to their coverage of the stand-off itself. Acting as a virtual propaganda organ for the R.C.M.P. and the NDP Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, the domestic media establishment was content to recycle police press releases with no attempt to corroborate their truthfulness. One writer in the alternative press likened the coverage to "CNN's handling of the Gulf War, with the reporters locked up in steady contact with the generals and the military's spin doctors". (Tony Hall in Canadian Dimension, Jan. 96). During the stand-off the Ts'peten defenders were relentlessly demonized as "squatters", "renegades", "terrorists" and "cultists". Crown Counsel has admitted that much of what was reported was "inaccurate". Indeed, the picture painted by media last summer bears little resemblance to the story now emerging from the Surrey Courthouse.
Crown witnesses have testified:
- Lyle James, the American "owner" of the 180,000 hectare Circle S ranch, rejected the recommendations of his lawyer and police to pursue a civil action through the courts to remove Percy Rosette from the Sundance grounds, apparently deeming the process too expensive. Instead, on June 13 a violent eviction was attempted, complete with bull-whip, rifle and death threats. Despite the illegality of this action, the R.C.M.P. apparently escorted James and his cowhands part way to the camp. By contrast, Percy Rosette was told that the R.C.M.P. would not involve themselves in this dispute which was between himself and the rancher.Many disturbing issues and unanswered questions remain:
- The stand-off may not have occurred on James' land at all. The map presented by the prosecution as evidence was found inadmissable; it was neither backed by legal survey nor officially certified.
- The peace process initiated by native R.C.M.P. officers was working well and was to culminate in a meeting of all parties on August 21. Yet on August 17, native officers were transferred to other duties and an Emergency Response Team (ERT) was inserted into the camp area. On the stand, Constable Ken Tassell remembered the exact time he picked up the ERT members to drive them to the lake and the exact time he picked them up to bring them back. However he could not recall who gave him the orders to do so. He further stated he took no notes on these two crucial days.
- A report by Constable George Findlay received by his superiors on July 13 submitted detailed historical research which largely validated the Defenders' claims. Findlay himself was secretly videotaped in the camp stating "It's a big rip-off. It's genocide". Yet on August 19, a senior R.C.M.P. officer Len Olfert told the press: "No one can really determine what they want or just what the issues are. We kind of think they're fanatical and they're terrorist - and they seem to want to engage in war for some reason."
- The highly publicized September fourth "ambush" by the natives of an R.C.M.P. vehicle was in fact a collision with a tree branch. The officers panicked and opened fire toward the camp.
- Jo Jo Ignace appears to have been beaten several times in custody, and to have been subjected to long interrogations deprived of both his clothes and his lawyer. His deteriorating condition as a result of this treatment is becoming increasingly obvious. R.C.M.P. and the crown are reportedly aware that Jo Jo Ignace could not possibly have committed the attempted murder with which he has been charged, since R.C.M.P. intelligence indicates he was at the family home in Chase, not at the camp, at the time of the alleged incident.After blockades at Adams Lake, Douglas Lake and Apex, circumstantial evidence suggests that the NDP government wished to demonstrate it could be tough on natives. Polling indicated that NDP support grew throughout the stand-off as the party readied itself for an election. Wolverine, aka William Jones Ignace, stated in court on July 15, 1996, "I'm here because the NDP wanted to kill natives to get votes".
- Wolverine was initially granted bail by provincial court Judge Blair, but this was overturned by Judge Patrick Dohm after the Attorney General and other politicians protested publicly. In the latest development, the Legal Services Society of B.C. has refused to fund an appeal of this last decision in the B.C. Court of Appeal.
- After the stand-off ended, R.C.M.P. cordoned off the area. The shot and broken trees were clear-cut, the bullet-embedded cook shack was burned to the ground, as was the sacred Sundance arbor, thereby destroying much of the physical evidence. R.C.M.P. has offered no explanation for these actions.
- The counsel for the defense has stated that they have completely lost faith in the disclosure process. In many instances they received disclosures from the crown only minutes before the witness concerned was to take the stand.
- It is now abundantly clear that the army was involved much earlier than was previously reported. On whose behest and to what extent was Operation Wallaby deployed? Did the Attorney General invoke section 277 of the National Defense Act? What equipment was involved?
- B.C.'s civil liberties/human rights lobby has been strangely silent on the many documented human rights violations. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh is also Minister of Human Rights, a grotesque and obvious conflict of interest.
The authorities have systematically suppressed the central issue, stated succinctly during the stand off by the Defenders' counsel of choice, Dr. Bruce Clark, in a letter to senior R.C.M.P.:
"The legality of the proposed police action depends entirely upon the resolution of the apparent conflict between the said domestic law that they intend to enforce and the constitution which says the Indians should not be molested or disturbed prior to treaty...such a fundamental question of jurisdiction can only be settled by the submission of the legal issue to the constitutionally approved independant and impartial third party tribunal..."All the Defenders ever demanded as a condition for relinquishing their defensive position was respect for that due process right.
Once in custody, defendants' repeated demands for access to their counsel, Bruce Clark, were ignored and alternative counsel was imposed. To keep Clark from his clients, authorities went so far as to lock him out of the courtroom. When he finally gained entry, he was wrestled to the ground by police, hauled away in shackles and leg irons. Finally, Judge Friesen ordered him to undergo a compulsory psychiatric evaluation before charging him with assault and contempt of court. A Canada-wide warrant was issued for his arrest, forcing him into exile. Ramsey Clark, ex-Attorney General of the United States accused the presiding judge of having "created the appearance of an outrageous abuse of judicial power to deprive persons accused of crime of their counsel and to deliberately humiliate that counsel and his clients".
In the absence of Clark, self-represented defendant Sheila Franklin is attempting as best she can to present his juridicional argument, in the face of obvious hostility on the part of the court.
Haida elder Lavina White recently called for a full and comprehensive public inquiry into these and other events surrounding the Gustafsen Lake crisis. The trial judge Bruce Josephson has also indicated the inadequacy of the court process to deal with all the issues raised by this case, stating, "This is not an inquiry. Though there may be one later, this is a trial..."
Please support the call for a public inquiry into the events of last summer at both Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash. Instruct your MP, MLA and other elected representatives accordingly. Please attend the trial in Surrey and see for yourself B.C.'s "just-us" system in action. Public transportation is available throughout the lower mainland. Court is in session Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and the trial is expected to last until Christmas. Contact mainstream and alternative media and demand fair and complete coverage. For further information, visit the web site at