The travesty of justice known as the Gustafsen Lake trial finally came to a close today. 12 of the 15 defendants convicted in connection with the Ts'peten siege of 1995 were sentenced to prison terms by Justice Bruce Josephson. They were taken directly to jail from the courtroom after the sentences were read. In this parody of judicial process, they have been imprisoned for defending sacred Sundance and burial grounds on unceded Shuswap territory, and criminalized for standing on natural, international and constitutional law.
The 4 defendants convicted of mischief causing actual danger to life and possession of weapons received the harshest sentences. Wolverine (William Jones Ignace), a 66 year old Shuswap elder, organic farmer and old-age pensioner was sentenced to 8 years in prison, James (OJ) Pitawanakwat was sentenced to 4 years, Edward (Pancho) Dick, 3 years and Suniva Bronson, 2 years less one day. All four are also prohibited from possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives for periods ranging from ten years to life. Wolverine has been imprisoned 22 months already, Pitawanakwat 6 months, so since accused are credited for twice the time spent in pre-trial custody, Wolverine has 4 and a half years and Pitawanakwat has 3 years in jail remaining to be served.
Of the 11 defendants convicted of mischief to property, 7 received 6 month sentences: Grant Archie, Glen Deneault, Trond Halle, Mary Pena, Percy Rosette, and Flo Sampson. Ron Dionne and Rob Fleming received slightly longer sentences, 9 months and 7 months respectively, as well as 2 years probation. Two defendants who have recently given birth were given conditional sentences to be served in the community; Sheila Ignace, daughter of Wolverine and Flo Sampson, received a 6 month sentence, and self-represented non-native Shelagh Franklin, who based her defence on jurisdiction alone, received a 1 year sentence. Brent Shadow Potulicki and Ron Dionne did not attend sentencing; the judge has delayed sentencing of Polulicki until he is apprehended.
The firearms bans will have a severe impact on the cultural practice and diet of the traditionalists. Moreover, the sentencing of Wolverine and Sampson causes grave worries for the well-being of JoJo Ignace, their developmentally disabled son. JoJo was acquitted on all charges laid against him and released, but doctors testified that his serious condition radically deteriorated as a result of the beatings and inappropriate medications he was given in jail. He has been subsequently hospitalized, and now neither of his parents will be free to care for him.
Judge Josephson's Reasons for Judgment regarding this sentencing underscore the deep bias he has exhibited throughout the year-long trial. He was several times interrupted today by cries of "liar" from the gallery as he read his own version of the events of the standoff.
Josephson once again asserted as fact American rancher Lyle James' "ownership" of the land in question, although the Crown admitted that the original owners, the Shuswap nation, never relinquished their title by sale or treaty, and although the trial produced strong evidence that the lot claimed by James may in fact be miles away from the Ts'peten Sundance grounds.
Josephson omitted from today's summary the incidents of harrassment, death threats and shootings directed at the camp by cowboys. He omitted the testimony that RCMP began planning for the operation in May, 1995, long before there was any indication of trouble. He omitted any mention of the RCMP's self-described "smear and misinformation campaign" which significantly contributed to the escalation of tensions. Yet he twice cited a dubious "ambush" on August 27, 1995, in which police were supposedly shot in the backs of their flak jackets, although there was not enough evidence to charge anyone with this incident: police could produce no bullets to trace to the camp (the officers claim they threw this vital evidence out the window), their 24-hour aerial surveillance footage is mysteriously missing for that time period, and information officer John Ward was captured on video stating that RCMP had on previous occasions taken their bulletproof clothing "out to the firing range," suggesting the jackets may have been tampered with.
The judge not only contradicted the evidence at trial on several occasions, he also contradicted his own previous rulings in this trial. He made several references today to the sincerity of the defendants' belief in the rightness of their actions, even mentioning that they had obtained legal advice to that effect; this is a total reversal of his ruling on colour of right (posted at http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/court/reascol.html) in which he foreclosed a primary defence by claiming that the defendants did not honestly believe they had a right to occupy that land. Several legal experts have said that this ruling disallowing colour of right made conviction nearly inevitable.
Josephson seems moreover to be completely untroubled by judicial contradictions. His reasons for disallowing the argument that the BC courts have no jurisdiction on unceded Native territory - another major pillar of the defence - baldly contradicted a previous Canada Supreme Court ruling. Josephson claimed the Delgamuukw case already dealt with this argument (see http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/court/reas_jur.html), while the Canada Supreme Court unequivocably ruled that it did not (see http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/clark/sep12scc.html).
It must be kept in mind that this is a man who also disallowed self-defence for several of the accused, saying that the largest RCMP operation in history, involving the army and 400 police officers equipped with land mines, 9 armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, airplanes, dog teams, .50 calibre machine guns, and firing an estimated 77,000 rounds in what one soldier explained was the largest Canadian forces land battle since the Korean war, all aimed at a mere 18 people, that this did not constitute excessive force (see http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/court/reasdef.html).
The judge has been consistent only in his animosity to the accused. He has allowed massive and repeated irregularities by the prosecution, ranging from the Crown routinely withholding disclosures until minutes before their witnesses took the stand, to the interference with witnesses by upper-level RCCMP officers, to the police destruction of massive amounts of evidence when they had the bullet-ridden trees at the lakesite all clearcut. When the prosecution case still didn't hold together, Josephson struck down all the major defence arguments, delaying filing his reasons for doing so until after the jury was sequestered, and allotted an unprecedented four days to instruct the jury in what they should and should not consider.
Add to all this the treatment of Native rights lawyer Bruce Clark, counsel of choice for many of the defenders, who was not allowed to represent them, was assaulted by police in the courtroom, arrested, shackled hand and foot, and jailed for several months, this trial has amply vindicated the Ts'peten Defenders' contention that they will never obtain a fair hearing in BC or Canada. The need for the third party tribunal that was their only demand at Gustafsen Lake has never seemed more clear.
For more information, contact: Splitting the Sky - Phone/Fax: (604) 543-9661 Bill Lightbown - Phone: (604) 251-4949Letters of condemnation to:
Prime Minister Jean ChretienLetters of support and solidarity for the Ts'peten Defenders can be sent c/o S.I.S.I.S.
Room 309-S Centre Block, House of Commons
Ottawa, Ont. K1A OA6 Canada
Phone: (613) 992-4211 Fax: (613) 941-6900
Faxing by email: remote-printer.Jean_Chretien@16139416900.iddd.tpc.int
WWW comments: http://pm.gc.ca/english/pmo/e_corres.htm
P.O. Box 8673
Victoria, "B.C." "Canada" V8X 3S2