[S.I.S.I.S. note: this article was written for the September '97 edition of Bulldozer.]
On May 20, 1997, after seven months of prosecution, three months of defence and nine days of reportedly gruelling deliberations, the Gustafsen Lake trial jury finally returned to Surrey's "anti terrorist" Courtroom Seven with their verdicts.
Several jurors were openly weeping. They wanted to read a prepared statement, but declined after Justice Bruce Josephson cautioned they could be actionable for libel and slander. It was a bizarre finish to a bizarre trial - a trial some call a ticking "political time-bomb."
The jury totally exonerated three accused, and reduced "mischief endangering life" against 11 defendants to "mischief to property." Of the 60 charges, there were 39 acquittals, including the most serious charges of attempted murder. This was despite Josephson's best efforts to steer the jury to convict; not only did he give a biased and distorted synopsis of 'relevant' testimony in an unprecedented four day monologue immediately before the jury retired, but he also dismissed the defendants' jurisdictional and "colour of right" defences in the final stages of the trial.
Vancouver lawyers Keith Hamilton and Gil McKinnon, writing in the Vancouver Sun (May 24, A23), explained colour of right: "The defence alleged that the accused had an honest belief that they had a sovereign right to use the land ... however the judge ruled that this belief did not constitute a legal justification or excuse, because there was no air of reality to the claim of honest belief that they had a legal right to use the land ... With a prime defence foreclosed it was almost inevitable that the jury would convict most accused.".
According to Dr. Bruce Clark, counsel of choice for many of the defendants, and himself the subject of a vicious "smear and disinformation" campaign by the authorities and legal establishment: "The jury had no choice but to find the way it did given the judge's instructions to them - that they had to accept that these events took place on private property belonging to Lyle James, and that the province of British Columbia and the court had jurisdiction. The problem is that the law to the contrary - that is the native law, international law and the constitutional law, putting the lie to the judge's position - still has not been addressed... At the end of the day, regardless of what the newspapers and the bellicose elements are saying, the fact remains that he [Josephson] has made decisions at law which he does not even begin to be capable of backing.".
What the "newspapers and bellicose elements" were saying was as bizarre as everything else about the Gustafsen affair. Dr. Michael Webster, FBI psychological "consultant" at Waco, the Tupac Amaru hostage crisis and Gustafsen Lake, suggested the jurors "experienced a kind of traumatic bonding with the accused - a mild form of Stockholm syndrome." (BC Report, June 2, p. 1) UBC's Professor Paul Tennant, a member of BC's "Indian industry" closely connected to the NDP's aboriginal agenda, told the Globe and Mail the Gustafsen trial "was not a native rights case." The May 22 editorial in Victoria's Times-Colonist found the whole affair: "in the end, not much more than a trespass case." Chief RCMP media liaison Sgt. Peter Montague, famous for his "smear campaigns are our specialty" remark caught on RCMP 'training tapes,' said that the Gustafsen Lake operation "had overwhelming support," and that the force "will be ready" with armoured personnel carriers if and when another standoff occurs. "Some things we didn't have at Gustafsen Lake, every attempt will be made to ensure the resources are available," said Montague.
The concerted attempt by the state to try to make Gustafsen Lake go away or to minimize its implications is an indication of how threatening the state finds these implications. There are serious questions about the massive use of force and just what the authorities were attempting. RCMP admit planning for the operation began in May. Fifty calibre machine guns, a documented "smear and disinformation" campaign, thousands of rounds of hollow-point ammunition fired at camp occupants, the use of a "land mine," complicity between the media and the RCMP, and the apparent targeting of some indigenous activists who "may require killing," have prompted calls from many quarters for a comprehensive public inquiry. As Native Studies Professor Tony Hall writes in Canadian Forum's April edition:
"The allegations of police and government wrongdoings are so serious that there is no question there should be a public inquiry into whether or not the rule of law was respected. Once again, the obstacle to this happening is a pervasive atmosphere of racism where very little public indignation exists as long as it is perceived that the only victims of government transgression are non-Whites."
Also needed is an independent, impartial, third party tribunal to adjudicate the fundamental issues of indigenous sovereignty rights and jurisdiction over unceded territories. Clearly the domestic Courts are in a fundamental conflict of interest ruling on the question of their own jurisdiction. So is the corporate driven BC Treaty Process, headed by a former Daishowa director, and designed to "extinguish and terminate" indigenous sovereignty forever - or as stated by Haida elder Lavina White: "to legitimize the theft of our lands."
The BC courts have repeatedly shown themselves to be politically influenced when it comes to trying indigenous sovereigntists, and this trial has been extraordinarily so. Among the more blatant indications of this were BC Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh's personal intervention to have Wolverine's bail revoked, and the Crown's sentencing summary which cited "repeated assertions that the Court has no jurisdiction" as an "aggravating circumstance," thereby stating explicitly that the state regards the belief in existing native sovereignty to be criminal.
The obvious political motivations of this court open up however the possibility of political pressure to influence its outcome. There is still time to notify the state that jail sentences for the Ts'peten defenders may have serious consequences. The sentencing process will be dragged out for nearly two months after the convictions, despite numerous requests by several defendants for a speedy sentencing so they can proceed with appeals. Submissions have been scheduled at intervals of ten days or more, with the last date so far set for July 20.
Indeed, political pressure from outside may be the only thing that will help the defenders at this point. The defence cousel seem to have abdicated their role some time ago, and did not even inform their clients that their primary arguments had been thrown out by the judge. Defence counsel Sheldon Tate, who described himself as "a little weasel" and whose offensive and divisive strategy involved a prosecution-like attempt to incriminate Wolverine, has indicated that he will not even personally deliver sentencing submissions for his clients, preferring to go on holiday instead.
It is time to begin decolonization instead of recolonization or neo-colonization. It is not too late to free the 66 year old Shuswap elder Wolverine, in jail since the standoff ended, now convicted of "mischief endangering life" for shooting out the tires of the 14 ton military vehicle attempting to "eliminate" him - or any of the other 14 defendants facing time for upholding the sovereign rights of the Shuswap nation against an illegal invasion of their homelands by a corrupt, colonialist regime.
Wolverine has appealed to supporters and international observers "to get the word out that they haven't dealt with the law here. The law's been thrown out! I believe I've been here long enough - maybe it's the colour of my skin that's keeping me in here."
Demand freedom for the Ts'peten Defenders, an independent, impartial third party tribunal into the jurisdiction issue and a public inquiry into Gustafsen Lake.
James (OJ) Pitawanakwat, Suniva Bronson and Edward (Pancho) Dick: 5-10 years
Grant Archie, Glen Deneault, Ron (Paintball) Dionne, Robert Flemming, Shelagh Franklin, Trond Halle, Sheila Ignace, Brent (Shadow) Potulicki, Mary Jane Pena, Percy Rosette, Flora Sampson: 2-5 years
For more information visit the S.I.S.I.S. web site:
Letters to Wolverine (William Jones Ignace) or OJ Pitawanakwat, Secwepemc and Odawa POWs:
Surrey Pre-Trial CentreIn an attempt to weaken their resolve, Wolverine and OJ have been abruptly separated to different ranges of the prison, making contact between them impossible.
14323 57th Ave.
Surrey, BC V3X 1B1 Canada