May 4/97: Gust Lake Conspiracy Theories on Trial


The Globe and Mail News Wire
Sunday, May 4, 1997
Ross Howard, British Columbia Bureau

[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.]

VANCOUVER -- The violent standoff between natives and police at Gustafsen Lake in 1995 was the product of a conspiracy, a B.C. Supreme Court jury has been told.

From the beginning to the end of the trial of 18 people alleged to be terrorists, as they were termed by the police, the jurors have heard repeatedly about conspiracies. But which one was real, if any? And who is really on trial: the accused or the police and politicians?

After hearing 171 days of testimony, the jury is expected to begin deliberations this week on charges of attempted murder, possession of dangerous weapons and potentially deadly mischief by the 14 natives and four non-native supporters who surrendered in the late summer of 1995.

The month-long standoff was extraordinarily violent. Tens of thousands of bullets were fired between the holdouts and 400 combat-equipped Mounties. The standoff cost $5.5-million and jeopardized relations between natives and non-natives in Canada. Amazingly, no one was killed.

What began as a straightforward trial 10 months ago has become an unprecedented inquiry into RCMP operations, a plunge into Canadian history and constitutional law, an endurance test for the jury, an estimated $5-million public expense and a sometimes circus-like event.

In their summations last week, government prosecutors asked the jury to find simple answers -- "guilty as charged" -- to what the defence argued was no criminal event but a reflection of complicated and unfinished business between Indians and non-natives in Canada.

Past injustices are history and Canadian law prevails, Crown attorney Lance Bernard said. The defence team countered that the context of the events is crucial. The jury's decision is certain to be seized on by the native sovereignty movement.

According to prosecutors, the standoff at a remote campsite in central British Columbia started out as a police investigation into a land-title dispute between a rancher and some native spiritual leaders.

A few radical natives abetted by Ontario lawyer Bruce Clark decided to make a defiant stand for native sovereignty, persuading other Indians that they could challenge what they considered to be racist policies inherent in Canadian law and politics. Or, according to the Crown, the radicals said they would become martyrs for a seething generation of younger Indians.

The defence lawyers and Mr. Clark portrayed the standoff as a connivance between police and B.C. politicians to vilify the natives, to crush public belief in the legitimacy of their cause and to halt the spread of Indian land claims. And, if necessary, to kill the natives.

The defence said the besieged Indians were legally entitled to a desperate self-defence against the police snipers, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers that pursued them in the woods.

Even in a province with a history of poor relations between natives and non-natives, and in the shadow of recent findings by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the defence's claims still upset the traditional non-native view of law, order and political integrity.

The four defence lawyers, however, have spent months eliciting startling revelations by the police about mistakes and remarks during their manoeuvres against the barricaded Indians that raise all sorts of questions.

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