May 1/97: Crown summation - "Gust Lake not land issue"


Vancouver Sun, Page B04
Thursday, May 1, 1997

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]

Jurors deciding the fate of people charged in the Gustafsen Lake standoff shouldn't treat the case as a land-claims issue, a Crown lawyer said Wednesday.

Lance Bernard said the 10-month-long B.C. Supreme Court trial in Surrey is an ordinary criminal proceeding.

He said what is unusual about the trial is the number of accused, the length of time it's taken and the motive for the offences.

Eighteen men and women are charged with offences ranging from mischief to attempted murder in the month-long standoff at Gustafsen Lake in the southern Interior in the summer of 1995.

In his closing submission, Bernard played a portion of a video filmed during a visit by Ovide Mercredi, Assembly of First Nations grand chief, to the armed encampment in August 1995. Mercredi is heard urging camp occupants not to use violence to right past injustices.

Bernard told the jury that he won't argue there haven't been past injustices done to the native Indian people.

"It's the method of addressing those injustices that is not acceptable," he said.

He urged jurors on several occasions not to let their emotions or feelings interfere with their common sense.

"Much of what you've heard is irrelevant . . . to what you need to make the finding of fact."

Several defendants representing themselves have made much of the land issue that sparked the dispute.

Events around Gustafsen Lake escalated after a group of Indian sundancers refused to leave the camp and some of their supporters joined them. The rancher who owned the land wanted them evicted but they refused to leave.

Fisheries officers seized numerous weapons from a pair of men believed to be connected to the camp Aug. 11, 1995.

Soon after, the RCMP began covert operations and a police officer was shot at while crossing a field early one morning.

Meanwhile, negotiations with those in the camp continued. The camp occupants demanded the Queen appoint a third-party tribunal to hear their grievances. They claimed the ranchland they occupied was sacred, unceded territory over which the RCMP and courts had no jurisdiction.

Bernard said it's clear some of the camp occupants had tried on numerous occasions before the standoff to have their claim lawfully heard by the Queen, but when those efforts failed they decided to take a different approach.

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