The man behind the RCMP video camera at the Gustafsen Lake standoff said he believed talk of "smear" campaigns against native Indians was intended as a joke.
But Norm Torp, the civilian director of the RCMP's audio-visual unit, also agrees that police used the media to discredit those inside the barricaded camp in the 1995 siege.
"That was part of the (RCMP's) media strategy," Torp told the B.C. Supreme Court trial in which 18 people are charged with offences ranging up to attempted murder.
Torp says he proposed the "documentary-style" project on the Gustafsen Lake standoff after interviewing the operations commander, Kamloops-based Supt. Len Olfert, for an RCMP training tape on civil disobedience.
That project included RCMP handling of native blockades at Adams Lake and the Douglas Lake Ranch earlier that summer in which Olfert was a central figure.
"It was outside the scope of the (original) project," Torp testified of the Gustafsen Lake proposal.
"But given the apparent nature of the Gustafsen operation, it may be worthwhile to document it for force training use."
A six-minute segment of a total of 46 hours of videotape shot by Torp on events surrounding the standoff has become pivotal in the marathon trial.
Since November, when Justice Bruce Josephson permitted an edited portion to be shown to jurors, the tone has shifted from a criminal trial to a public inquiry into RCMP tactics.
The prosecution maintains that provocative phrases -- including "smear campaigns are our specialty," said by RCMP media liaison officer Sgt. Peter Montague -- were said in jest and are of little significance.
But the defence -- set to open its case on Feb. 19 -- is expected to argue the "smear" comments reflect a mindset in which the RCMP were the aggressors at Gustafsen Lake.
Yesterday, Torp said he turned the camera off after Montague's comment made at a Sept. 1 session in 100 Mile House, because the meeting was "digressing."
He said he took the comment as a joke at the time -- and afterward, when Montague told him he was joking while reviewing the tape.
"You knew it could be an embarrassment (to the RCMP)," said defence counsel George Wool.
"Taken out of context, that's correct," responded Torp.
The trial continues.
"It was an open budget," Kamloops Supt. Len Olfert recalls of the outlay. "We were running on a credit card essentially."
But taxpayers haven't seen the end of it. The criminal trial has lasted 119 days -- and the defence has yet to call a witness.
At $50,000 a day in court costs, the final bill is expected to climb above $6 million.
Fourteen native Indians and four non-natives, many defending themselves, face a battery of trespassing and weapons charges stemming from the siege, which was punctuated with shooting incidents but ended peacefully on Sept. 17, 1995.
Charged with attempted murder are camp leader William Jones Ignace (Wolverine), 65, who is alleged to have shot at police, and Ignace's mentally disabled son Joseph (JoJo), who allegedly fired at an undercover police unit.
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