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A call for help to the Kamloops RCMP from native militants at Gustafsen Lake was never mentioned at a news conference held the next day to denounce the natives as "terrorists."
But RCMP media liason officer Sgt. Peter Montague denied yesterday that the Canadian public,through the media, were given "selective truths" and "propaganda" about the nature of the 1995 armed encampment.
It's a balance as to what the public has a right to know and what they should know because of the need to maintain the integrity of evidence...I wouldn't say it's the selective truth," he testified in a BC Supreme coutroom in Surrey.
Fourteen natives, and four non-natives are charged with crimes from criminal trespassing to attempted murder. Montague maintained he simply relayed information from Kamloops RCMP Supt. Len Olefert and others about events that led to the crisis, and throughout the month long siege.
We didn't know all the facts. There are several unknowns," he acknowledged of several discrepancies and gaps in violent events linked to the native encampment. He said that on one occasion a press release was issued to correct earlier misconceptions -- but was ignored by the media. But the court has heard:
- None of several Gustafsen Lake harassment and shooting incidents cited by the RCMP at an Aug.19 conference was ever directly linked to the group.Montague insisted RCMP head-quarters, which took over the crisis from the local detachment, didn't over-react with an Aug.19 news conference warning they were "dealing with a criminal agenda." "You were conditioning the Canadian public -- including perspective jurors -- that the people at Gustafsen Lake were terrorists," charged defence counsel George Wool.
- Camp occupants fired one shot at six heavily armed emergency response RCMP officers attempting "reconnaissance" on the camp early Aug.18. Shortly afterward, three calls for assistance from camp sympathizers, including spiritual leader Percy Rosette, went out to Kamloops RCMP. But two native RCMP constables from 100Mile House detachment -- who had been negotiating with camp occupants -- were called off when they raced to mediate.
"That was the way it started off. That was the message, yes," agreed Montague. "It's incumbent on the police to advise its community as to dangers that might be lurking."
Friday, January 24, 1997 - Page A7
SURREY - RCMP released the names and criminal backgrounds of some people involved in the Gustafsen Lake standoff because they feared people could get injured or killed, an RCMP spokesman testified Thursday. Sgt. Peter Montague said the decision to release criminal records was made after the RCMP had been in a lengthy gun battle at Gustafsen Lake and there was a worry the standoff might escalate.
Eighteen men and women face charges ranging from attempted murdie to weapons charges and mischief in the standoff in August and September 1995 near 100 Mile house in the south central Interior.
It was sparked by rising tensions between natives who had taken part in an annual religious sundance ceremony since 1989 on land near the community. Natives put up a fence but landowner Lyle James served an eviction notice . The conflict escalated when shots were fired at police around mid-August, but ended peacefully Sept.17. No one was killed.
Under cross-examination, Montague was asked want he meant by "criminal agenda" and how he arrived at that expression when he prepared a document that became the RCMP media strategy.
He said local people had been shot at, a police helicopter had been fired on and RCMP officers had been shot near the camp.
"We had gone through a lengthy gun battle with 3,000 rounds of ammunition being exchanged," said Montague. The RCMP subsequently referred to one of the accused , William Ignace, and others in the camp, as "Wolverine and his band of thugs." The defence has suggested repeatedly that the RCMP tried to manipulate the media covering the standoff by its use of inflammatory language so it could keep public opinion on its side.
The court heard Montague testify Wednesday he was only joking when he said at a strategy meeting during the standoff that "smear campaigns are our specialty."
Lawyers for persons charged in connection with the standoff spent Thursday probing for evidence of a conspiracy between the RCMP and the media covering the event.
Sergeant Peter Montague, the officer in charge of media relations at Gustafsen Lake, was questioned about the kind of information he released, as well as his relationship with journalists.
The defense contends a deliberate smear campaign was aimed at the native Indians occupying the armed encampment near 100 Mile House. Lawyer George Wool, a former RCMP officer, suggested the Indians believed some reporters were acting as agents for the police. Montague rejected such suggestions outright. However he did agree that at one point during the summer of 1995 crisis, he was asked by his superiors to stop using the word "terrorists" [and substitute 'criminals' - SISIS] to describe camp members.
In earlier testimony, the RCMP has been embarrassed by the release of a video in which officers are shown discussing a "smear campaign" against the camp occupants. Montague denied that such a campaign was ever contemplated or carried out. Wool questioned him about events that led to a turning point in the crisis -- the Aug. 18 incident in which an RCMP officer approaching the camp was shot at. This event led to deployment of about 400 RCMP officers and armored vehicles in the area. Wool said on Aug. 19, Montague and six journalists traveled to Williams Lake for a press conference in which the officer who was shot at, Superintendant Len Olfert was available for interviews.
Montague agreed with Wool that Olfert never explained he was part of a heavily armed emergency response team dressed in camouflage that was creeping up on the encampment.
Wool said when Indians saw armed men creeping towards the camp, they phoned the RCMP at 100 Mile House.
Montague was asked if he knew that two RCMP officers -- both native Indians -- set out to investigate the complaint but were ordered to turn back by senior officers. Montague said he knew nothing about it at the time. The case continues.
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Four Mounties are facing obstruction of justice charges for allegedly fixing traffic tickets...Charged are Vernon Mounties Insp. Jim Hill, Staff Sgt. Brian Papp and Sgt. Doug Hartl, and Staff Sgt. Bob Ferguson of Kamloops. "If there's an allegation we investigate it thoroughly and submit findings to Crown counsel," RCMP Sgt. Peter Montague said last night.
It's alleged the three Vernon Mounties fixed traffic tickets for a number of Vernon residents, including relatives and friends...Montague said the officers have been suspended with pay.
(Both Sgt. Doug Hartl and Sgt. Peter Montague were attached to the Crisis Management Team at Gustafsen Lake. Montague RCMP press liaison stated on RCMP videotape, played for the jury, that:"smear campaigns are our specialty". - SISIS ed.)