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Descriptions of the RCMP's "disinformation and smear campaign" used to discredit native Indians at the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff have returned to haunt the Mounties. A red faced RCMP officer says he sorely regrets using the provocative phrases, captured on videotape and played yesterday at the BC Supreme Court trial of 14 natives and four non-natives involved in the month-long armed siege on private ranch land.
Senior mediator Sgt. Dennis Ryan now claims he chose his words "poorly" when he relayed operation commander Supt. Len Olfert's plans to other senior RCMP strategists at a Sept.1 meeting. "I regret using the term 'smear and misinformation'," Ryan explained, "because in fact it was (a campaign) of information ...I think it was thrown out as a matter of course in the meeting."
He added:"I wouldn't have gone along with it, notwithstanding I used the term." Asked by defence counsel George Wool whether "this is not one of the most embarrassing moments of your career," the 26-year vetran responded "I hope it's the last one." The controversial video was never intended for public airing and prosecutors have tried to prevent its release at the trial. Produced as an in-house RCMP "training tape," the video includes 50 hours of material shot during the siege in which the RCMP deployed 400 officers and spent 5 million bfore the operation ended peacefully.
On the tape, parts of which are missing, RCMP information officer Sgt. Peter Montague says with a smile that: "Smear campaigns are our specialty."
"I took it as a flippant remark," said Ryan yesterday who acknowledged RCMP illegally released juvenile criminal records of some of the militants they believed to be in the camp. "We talked about putting out criminal records, thereby discrediting," he said of the strategy. But he denied the RCMP slanted media releases to make Canadians see the natives as "buffoons" and terrorists. "I wouldn't go that far," he told Wool. So sensitive is the six minute edited portion containing the 'smear campaign' remarks that when the tape was mentioned in a Jan. 7 Province news story, Ryan received a call from RCMP Inspector Percy Edwards.
The call is controversial as Ryan was midway through his testimony and court rules bar him from discussing the case. "He reminded me I was on the tape," recalled Ryan of the call. "I think he said, 'It's going to be embarrassing.' "I said: 'We're out there, warts and all."
Montague is expected to testify today.
Partial transcript from the Sept.1 RCMP meeting of Communications Officer Peter Montague, Chief negotiator Dennis Ryan and Bruce Cameron:
Ryan (describing operations commander Supt. Len Olfert's dislike of militants' lawyer Bruce Clark): "He's very enthusiastic about putting anything out there that is legitimate and professional and logical to show this guy is a buffoon."
Ryan : (to Cameron): "Did you find somebody to help us with a smear or disinformation campaign?"
Cameron: "I was talking with David Ward (of the National Aboriginal Veterans Association) and he says most of the boys or vets fought for Canada...(laughs) and they want to come in and talk to the natives..."
Ryan: "...One thing is giving the natives stress out there. The other thing is if we can identify somebody legitimately who has influence over these people..."
(There is a discussion of releasing criminal records.)
Ryan: "They (RCMP serious crime branch) want to do that in a coordinated way to bring discredit to these f--ing guys, and (Olfert) is on line with that..."
(Montague says his media strategy is "god-damn near dead-on with what you're talking about.")
Ryan:"Yeah, they want to show who's there and who the police are dealing with...by moving against (the camp) you're going to need armaments and people are going to get hurt.."
Montague: "Smear campaigns are our specialty..."