After deliberating for 8 days, the Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) trial jury returned with their verdicts. 14 indigenous traditionalists and 4 non-native supporters were charged in connection with the 1995 RCMP and Canadian army siege on sacred Sundance and burial grounds in central "British Columbia".
The jury expressed the wish to make a statement, but did not in fact deliver it, apparently intimidated by Justice Bruce Josephson's statement that they would be without immunity once they issued the verdicts and liable for whatever they might say.
Holding an eagle feather, tears streaming down his face, the aboriginal foreman read the verdicts. Other jurors were also openly weeping.
Wolverine (William Jones Ignace), James (OJ) Pitawanakwat, Edward Dick and Suniva Bronson were found guilty of mischief to property causing actual danger to life and posessing a weapon dangerous to the public peace. Wolverine was also found guilty of discharging a firearm to prevent arrest and using a firearm in assaulting a "peace officer", but acquitted of attempted murder. Joseph (JoJo) Ignace, charged with attempted murder and various mischief and weapons charges, and brothers Francis and Edward Dick, charged with mischief were acquitted of all charges. All the other accused were found guilty of mischief of private property of a value exceeding $5,000.
Sentencing for most of the accused will occur June 6 and 10. A hearing will take place Thursday morning to decide issues of bail and sentencing dates for Wolverine and OJ.
The crown indicated that it will push for harsh sentences. Regarding Wolverine, jailed since September 1995, prosecutor Lance Bernard stated that "the crown will be seeking a lengthy custodial sentence, well in excess of what he has already served."
The 66 year old Shuswap elder, who faces a possible life sentence, told S.I.S.I.S.: "We were wrongfully convicted. The judge wouldn't hear the law. The prosecutor admitted there was no purchase and no treaty - so how could the court possibly have jurisdiction? This is fraud, treason and genocide."
In a bizarre sidebar to the trial, defendant Shelagh Franklin was arrested on another charge immediately after the court adjourned. She was charged with contempt of court for allegedly failing to return one of the RCMP training tapes, and held in jail with her 11 week old infant. They were later released pending a hearing on Thursday.
RCMP media liaison Peter Montague today told CTV News that the next time "there's no question that RCMP would respond in a similar fashion." Observers have been shocked by testimony which revealed that RCMP initiated 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 as part of a "smear and disinformation campaign".
Many questions remain unanswered about the involvement of the RCMP, the army and especially the senior officials of both federal and provincial governments who sanctioned and directed the operation, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who is currently seeking re-election.
-=-=-=-=->>>Calls for a public inquiry are urgently needed<<<-=-=-=-=-
Please tell federal candidates that your vote is dependant upon their support of an inquiry.
On Tuesday, the national broadcaster CBC invited viewers to call if they thought a public inquiry was necessary. We believe a broad, international response will be required to have any impact.
Please leave a message calling for a full and comprehensive inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake matter at: (604) 662-6397.
Ts'peten Defence Committee spokespeople:
Bill Lightbown - Phone: (604) 251-4949
Splitting the Sky - Phone/Fax: (604) 543-9661
One of the accused, Mr. William Jones Ignace (also know as Wolverine), was found guilty of Mischief Causing Actual Danger to Life, Possession of Weapons for a Purpose Dangerous to the Public Peace, Discharging a Firearm with the Intent to Prevent Arrest, and Using a Firearm in the Commission of an Indictable Offence. Mr. Ignace was the apparent leader of the armed stand-off. The offences of which he has been found guilty are, as previously stated, very serious offences and the circumstances of their commission are regarded by the Crown to be extremely aggravated.
Three of the accused were acquitted. One of the accused, Joseph Ignace, suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to the extent that his intellectual abilities are believed to be equal that of a six year old. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the jury had reasonable doubt with respect to his guilt. The other two accused, Francis Dick and Stuart Dick, faced the least serious charges and were in the encampment for a relatively brief period.
The Crown is grateful to the jury for its dedication to this case. It was apparent upon delivery of the verdict that it was a very emotional matter for, at least, some jurors.
The Crown regards the findings of guilt against the accused as confirmation of the participation of each of the accused in the Gustafsen Lake stand-off. The Crown will be seeking sentences of imprisonment for each of the accused.
Lance W. Bernard
Deputy-Regional Crown Counsel
May 20, 1997