Armed guards outnumbered spectators during the 14-minute hearing of Ts'peten defenders James 'OJ' Pitawanakwat and Wolverine (aka Jones William Ignace) on Dec.11, 1997, at the BC Court of Appeal. After Wolverine and Pitawanakwat addressed the court separately and explained their desire to drop their appeals of conviction, BC Chief Justice Allan McEachern several times urged them to reconsider. McEachern said, "I am not persuaded that it is in your interests to do so..."
Pitawanakwat, sentenced to four-and-a-half years, and Wolverine, sentenced to eight years, withdrew their conventional right to appeal their convictions in order to challenge the court strictly on the grounds that it has no legal jurisdiction over unceded Aboriginal nations and territories. When Wolverine tried to address McEachern about the failure of the court to recognize international and domestic law regarding jurisdiction, McEachern interrupted him and then ended the hearing. Before adjourning, McEachern added: "I wish to record the fact they are making a mistake in my view."
Wolverine said the Chief Justice offered him and Pitawanakwat a deal. "They offered me freedom if I abandon the jurisdiction argument and go ahead with the colour of right or self-defense [on appeal]," he said. The color of right, self-defense, and the main defense argument challenging jurisdiction, were not considered by the court, during the Gustafsen Lake trial. Trial Judge Bruce Josephson instructed the jury to ignore these arguments prior to their being sequestered.
Colour of right means that a person cannot be convicted if they believed they were acting lawfully. This defense acquitted many of those charged in the Stony Point (aka Ipperwash) incident in Ontario - also during the summer of 1995. "It's funny how this judge here [McEachern] admitted we had a good chance under the color of right," said Wolverine. Native sovereigntist Tsemhquw of the LiL'Wat People's Movement said the BC government has made it clear that in order to be released from prison, Wolverine and Pitawanakwat have to give up their jurisdiction argument.
"I could be out at this time," Wolverine added, "but since I stand on the jurisdiction issue, I feel it's not right for me to abandon that fight. I want to prove to the politicians that they are wrong in law. "There's nowhere for any judge to hide anymore," said Wolverine. "I just hope [Aboriginal] people don't start making deals. I hope they can hold out a little bit longer until we can settle the jurisdiction issue." Tsemhquw said indigenous people are indebted to Wolverine for pursuing the honest truth of the law. "He [Wolverine] has the capacity and the willingness to sacrifice his freedom and life in order to raise the issue [of jurisdiction] again," said Tsemhquw.
Despite being imprisoned for over two years, Wolverine remains optimistic: "We're still struggling in order to have the jurisdiction [argument] in British Columbia heard," he said. "But I think we got them pretty well cornered now because of the ruling that came down for the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en case known as Delgamuukw. It was sent back to BC for retrial on a technicality. Delgamuukw was a long-running land claims case which began as an argument for jurisdiction and ownership. In the BC Court of Appeal it was transformed into an argument for land title and self-government.
Before being promoted to Chief Justice, Allan McEachern was the trial judge for Delgamuukw. He ruled that Aboriginal rights were extinguished by the colonial government of BC and that the precolonization life of the Gitxsan was "nasty, brutish and short," because they had "no written language, no horses or wheeled vehicles." Both Pitawanakwat and Wolverine are representing themselves because the BC courts have denied them their counsel of choice, Aboriginal-rights lawyer Dr. Bruce Clark, who specializes in constitutional law.
According to Clark, since the standoff, he has been subjected to an ongoing smear campaign by the BC media and judiciary to distract the public from his legal arguments. Clark alleges the BC judiciary is guilty of perpetrating genocide through a massive fraud against Aboriginal nations. When Clark attempted to present his legal argument days before the standoff at Gustafsen Lake ended, he was assaulted by police in court and charged with contempt. He was imprisoned and claims to have been subjected to sleep deprivation during the three days prior to his own court appearance for contempt before Judge Nicholas Friesen.
After passing the psychiatric assessment ordered by Friesen, Clark and his family, fearing for their lives fled Canada for Europe. Clark was arrested and imprisoned when he arrived in Vancouver in 1996 to appear at the Gustafsen Lake trial. Among the evidence revealed at the unreported trial were reports the RCMP were planning an invasion of Shuswap territory as early as January 1995.