Last Tuesday the trial of the Ts'peten defenders, the 18 people involved in the Gustafsen Lake "standoff" and the longest criminal trial in Canadian history, came to a close with 21 convictions and 39 acquittals.
This trial has largely been ignored by the media with the exception of a few campus organizations, some meticulous internet coverage and the Vancouver weekly paper, Terminal City.
The Gustafsen Lake Defenders were besieged by 400 RCMP and army personnel from August 22 to September 17, 1995. The 'standoff' resulted from RCMP support of a rancher, Lyle James' efforts to evict several native people involved in a Sundance Ceremony near Gustafsen Lake BC.
In the trial no proof was offered that the site of the ceremony is included in the land that James purchased in the 1970s. Evidence was produced to suggest that it is not. Even if it was, the whole area was never ceded by the Shuswap nation, which brings up the question of jurisdiction.
Several days were spent during the trial hearing testimony from the Ontario Lawyer, Dr. Bruce Clark, on this subject. He showed tht many laws from a royal proclamation of 1704 up to the 1982 repatriation of Canada's Constitution from Britain, all require that land which was neither conquered or given up by treaties still belongs to the native peoples of this country.
In his summation to the jury, Judge Josephson mentioned Clark only to imply that he should have been charged as well, and ordered the jury to consider the land in question as the private property of Lyle James, thus ignoring all of Clark's evidence without giving any legal argument for doing so.
The trial revealed some of the lengths the RCMP went to create a smear campaign and to try to provoke the Gustafsen Lake Defenders. Both tactics seem to have been in order to justify a massacre. The story of two RCMP officers being ambushed and saved only by their flak-jackets seems to have been completely fabricated and no evidence for it other than the testimony of the two was produced in court.
The video footage from the RCMP's own cameras that recorded all that went on in the besieged encampment is missing for the period during the supposed ambush. On another RCMP tape, an officer remarks that it won't be the first time they have needed to take flak-jackets to the firing range. The manufacturer of the jackets has said that they are meant only to stop small arms fire, not the rifle fire that the Mounties claim to have received. Early on in the standoff, the Mounties seized several weapons from the vehicle of two men arrested for fishing near the Sundancer camp. This was presented as evidence of the terrorist nature of the Sundancers. During the trial, two Mounties testified that the weapons "came from a separate case dealt with elsewhere," and that they "had no evidence to link the guns to the camp."
The abuses of justice during the siege of the Defenders were legion. Suniva Bronson had the truck she was driving blown up by an RCMP landmine, and rammed twice by an armored personnel carrier (ie a tank). She fled unarmed, had 20,000 bullets fired into her camp, and had her right arm shot in the process.
As a result, she was charged with mischief causing actual danger to life and possession of a firearm. This is what passes for justice in BC. This is just some of the evidence that came up in the trial demonstrating the Mounties' attempts to paint the Sundancers as dangerous terrorists, when it was the Mounties who had all the fire power and were eager to use it. Testimony during the trial revealed that the RCMP intitiated shooting incidents, employed land mines, fired 77,000 rounds of hollow-tipped bullets, ordered the shooting of unarmed people in an agreed upon "safe zone", and twisted or outright fabricated incidents for the media.
They were helped along by the NDP Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh, who sent a requisition along to the Canadian Solicitor General for "four fifty caliber McMillan Sniper Rifles," and then Premier Mike Harcourt who said the Defenders were "seized with a cult mentality."
The province has admitted to spending $5.5 million on the paramilitary assault on the Defenders. According to one report, the RCMP printed t-shirts that called their operation "Camp Overtime", featuring a $ sign with two arrows through it.
How much of the orders for a smear campaign and the orders to shoot to kill came from the NDP government? A public inquiry is being called for by the supporters of the Gustafsen Lake defenders. But of one thing there can be no doubt: as a result of these attacks on the Gustafsen Lake Defenders, the climate of anti-native racism has grown in BC. During the 'standoff', the provincial NDP shot up in the polls, so much so, that they drafted an election writ. It was only the 'bingo-gate' scandal that made them reconsider.
The crown has recommended that the Defenders found guilty face the maximum penalties. This could mean life in prison for Wolverine (William Jones Ignace). The 66 year old Shuswap elder stated, after the verdict was delivered, "We were wrongfully convicted. The judge wouldn't hear the law. The prosecutor admitted there was no purchase [of the land by the crown] and no treaty - so how could the court possibly have jurisdiction? This is fraud, treason and genocide."
As one native activist said at a rally for the Defenders, the message of this trial for anyone fighting for their rights is, if you fight back, you will be jailed, vilified, you will be defeated. The stakes in this case are very high for all native people , and for anyone who stands up to government attacks. We must demand that the NDP government intervene to drop all the charges. Free the Gustafsen Defenders. RCMP off native land. Stop the anti-native backlash!