** The Vancouver Sun can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org **
The duelling between defense council and the RCMP's top media official over allegations of wrongdoing continued Friday at the Surrey trial of 18 persons arrested at Gustafsen Lake.
Defense lawyer George Wool has been attempting to show that native Indians and white supporters in the armed encampment were subjected to a smear campaign by the RCMP who spread disinformation to the media about what was happening during the police siege.
The 18 people are charged with a variety of offenses ranging from attempted murder to mischief in connection with a standoff between the group and the RCMP in the summer of 1995 at an isolated campsite near 100 Mile House. Sergeant Peter Montague, who was in charge of media relations during the month long siege, denied under cross examination there was any deliberate intention to deceive the media in order to influence opinion to the side of the RCMP.
For much of the time the encampment was isolated and surrounded by heavily-armed RCMP officers following a number of incidents in which the police said they had been fired upon. (Without access to the encampment, the media relied upon news releases issued by the RCMP but reporters at times were able to eavesdrop on RCMP field communications and information obtained this way was often used to question police during their briefings.)
The first incident was on Aug. 18 1995 when the RCMP said an officer approaching the camp had been shot at. But Wool said that left unsaid in the RCMP's version was that the police officer was part of an armed and camouflaged emergency response team that was spotted crawling toward the camp by the occupants who did not recognize them as police officers.
He said too, that the people in the camp called the RCMP detachment at 100 Mile House and asked for help after spotting the men and that two RCMP officers, both native Indians, were on their way to investigate the call when ordered to turn back.
He questioned Montague about a second incident that occurred Aug. 24 when a police helicopter pilot flying near the camp reported he had been shot at. At the time Montague said police believed shots had been directed at the aircraft but the report couldn't be confirmed.
On Sept. 7 there was another incident involving a helicopter and shooting in which the pilot reported that as he flew about four kilometres from the camp he heard shots. Montague admitted the RCMP couldn't prove that shots were aimed at the helicopter.
Wool said that on Sept.11 Montague released a statement concerning two people in a red truck as being the ones who had previously fired on police helicopters. Their truck was blown up after crossing a police mine and the two occupants escaped. Wool wanted to know why Montague had elevated his statements from the aircraft possibly being shot at to definitely being fired upon.
Wool suggested that such changes in statements were made following a Sept.1 meeting of police officials in which psychological warfare tactics were discussed.