May 23/97: Sundancers on Trial - Terminal City


- by Ben Mahony

[The following article, reprinted from the May 23-29 issue of the Vancouver publication Terminal City, is highly recommended -- S.I.S.I.S.]

Reporters from the major networks flocked to the Surrey Courthouse to hear the verdict of the Gustafsen Stand-off trial on Tuesday. They gleaned reaction from defendants, RCMP, and some native people across BC to the 21 convictions and 39 acquittals.

Not mentioned on any of the Tuesday night broadcasts was the nature of the charge that Judge Josephson gave to the jury last week. He said, "you will probably have no difficulty concluding that the alleged offence occurred at the time and place alleged in the indictment."

Josephson also instructed the jury to consider the land in question as Lyle James' private property, therefore ruling beyond his powers into areas of jurisdiction. Most television broadcasts have styled American rancher as the owner of this land although there is no land survey to confirm this.

Josephson also summed up the testimony of Crown witnesses by editing out many of the contradictions which made RCMP testimony embarrassingly convoluted and inconsistent.

The only mention of Bruce Clark, the counsel of choice for the Sundancers, was the inference that he should have been charged as well. Clark testified for three weeks as to the nature of constitutional law which states that the Sundancers have jurisdiction over their land. He also testified that Native land can only be considered Crown land "subject to" a treaty and that no such treaty has ever existed or been introduced into court.

Clark was admitted in February as an "expert witness: as to the state of mind of members of the camp under the "colour of right" defence which is the argument that exonerates an individual if he or she believes in the essential rightness of their actions.

On the stand, Clark stated that "The whole reason for Gustafsen Lake is in reference to the 1704 instrument which is the remedy," the third party tribunal which was enshrined in the Proclamation of 763 and confirmed most recently in 1982's Constitution Act. This is what Wolverine was seeking at Gustafsen Lake.

In instructing the jury to ignore both the jurisdiction argument as well as the colour of right defence in his charge to the jury, the Judge has effectively "stacked the deck" according to the Ts'peten Defenders.

John Shafer, who has been doing noon hour reports from the Courthouse on radio station CFUV in Victoria said "In my view, this latest grotesque attempt to 'steer' the jury into registering convictions is and outrageous abuse of process - and is indicative of the craven criminality of BC's just-us system."

In this context, the suspicions of those that assert the likelihood of jury tampering seem distinct possibility. This jury came back with a verdict of "interfering with lawful arrest." How the average jury member could convict is baffling considering that it was an Armoured Personnel Carrier chasing unarmed people which is the process of "arrest" that Wolverine is supposed to have interfered with.

These two people were escaping from the red truck which was detonated by an RCMP command mine. Wolverine distracted an Armoured Personnel Carrier from these two effectively saving their lives, as these "arresting" officers have acknowledged in court that they had "a green light to eliminate the shooter." Wolverine shot at the tires of the tanks deflecting attention, allowing the two men to escape, injuring no one, therefore not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of interfering with arrest.

Suniva Bronson, one of the members of the camp noted that one of the reporters from CBC came into the camp and said "we understand" that the demand was for this third party tribunal to mediate the dispute, "land rights and issues for Indian people." "All our demands they chose to ignore," she continued. Suniva said that the CBC reporter expressed a desire to report the facts but "needed confirmation from one other source" and that since the reporter couldn't get the RCMP to confirm that the camp was actually looking for diplomacy not violence, he couldn't use it.

Shuswap Faithkeeper Percy Rosette, described as a "quiet, spiritual elder" on the April 21st CBC broadcast, was also interviewed at this time. Percy -- who the RCMP insulted, describing him as a "mentally deficient person" in a media strategy memo from [RCMP Media liaison officer] Peter Montague to Superintendent Len Olfert -- stated in that interview that the "only true demand to a tribunal... the truth is what we stood on... the rancher states that he owns the land but it's not valid, not true... there has been no consent. All this didn't come out in any news... our intentions were spiritual, to have a spiritual government... when it was attacked we called upon the warriors. When Wolverine came in, it was to defend our culture, defend our rights. We were always on the defensive posture." "How could we ambush?" Percy asked in reference to an event which as recently as Tuesday night, RCMP assert native people ambushed RCMP although no evidence has been introduced into court which substantiates the story which was told at an RCMP press conference on August 27th [1995].

In fact, RCMP Wescam [high-powered aerial 24-hour surveillance] footage which should have confirmed the officers story is mysteriously absent from the tapes that day. The two officers nonetheless stuck to their story and do to this day despite the fact that four days later, Clark emerged from the camp with an RCMP shell casing and an affidavit stating that contrary to the RCMP's official version of events, the officers had shot unprovoked, directly into the camp on August 27th. "Testimony, material evidence, forensics and high-ranking RCMP members' notebooks also contradict the RCMP's official story and point to a shady RCMP operational plan, headed up by Supt. Olfert to create an incident in order to lend credence to his numerous requests for military and APC deployment." (Ts'peten Defenders)

This incident is testament enough that a full public inquiry should take place. Fifty hours of training tapes have been kept from the jury although they contain candid footage of RCMP officers preparing official versions of events for the press. One excerpt follows where the two officers are trying to decide who they will style the shooter and who was the driver:

"Montague: Are you sure Rocky returned if he was driving?

Sarich: Ya, he was firing out there too.

Montague: Then we could have some dead fucking terrorists?

Sarich: Then, then... No, no we don't.

Montague: (laugh) Not that lucky.

Sarich: All of a sudden fire started on the other side.

Montague: Oh it did! In a cross fire?!... "

These tapes have been suppressed by the judge. In fact, one of the accused, Shelagh Franklin, was jailed for two hours on Tuesday after the verdict was announced, in contempt of court, because she failed to return one of the tapes.

Reporters at the courthouse on Tuesday acknowledged that there are many complex issues in the case but none elaborated on the contradictions in RCMP testimony, the jurisdiction issues, nor the judicial peculiarities in this mass trial.

Reporters may have been unaware of the crucial issues surrounding the case because none of them have been there to report about it for the last nine months. Perhaps that is why Peter Montague who appeared on an RCMP training tape introduced into the trial in the winter admitting "smear campaigns are our specialty" was interviewed as some kind of authority on Tuesday. He stated that the police would have done 90% of the same things. One wonders if this would include shooting at an unarmed person in a negotiated "no-shoot-zone" as took place on Sept. 12th.

RCMP have stated that they will undertake an administrative review into this shooting which as Adrienne Arsenault reported on CBC News "police didn't mention to the media... Police snipers were watching him." On the surveillance footage which follows, the sniper asks for "authority to make his day unpleasant." The answer comes back: "If he's in range, go ahead." Shots then are fired at the unarmed man, narrowly missing him. (CBC Broadcast One, April 21st)

One of the other network broadcasts on Tuesday night stated that one of the convictions was for "discharge" of a weapon, which is untrue. No native person has been shown to have fired in any context but self defence. [The judge ruled that self-defence was not a valid defence against a peace officer - S.I.S.I.S.] This is shocking to the various politicians whose reactions of disbelief were based on impressions formed at the time when various elements of the RCMP "smear campaign" were promulgated directly to the press.

Those who have received no information about the astonishing evidence of this trial, such as the most recent disclosure that the RCMP fired over 77,000 rounds to less than twenty-five from the camp must be shocked. They still labour under the illusion that the camp was full of "known Native criminals, although many of the criminal records were later proven to be deliberately falsified (as in Wolverine's case), or belonged to people who were never at the camp." (Media Analysis, Dec. 96) One of the accused is suing for damages as it was falsely reported by Staff Sgt. Montague on television that he had a criminal record. Peter Montague was quoted on Tuesday's CBC 11 o'clock broadcast and no qualification was made that he was shown on national news in January admitting to a smear campaign. Montague's original media strategy referred to "Wolverine and His Band of Thugs" and expressed concern over "potential danger that members might express views not consistent with our official messaging" and that "The Force should never allow such a negative message to leak out." Reference in this memo is also made to "involving the media in a session where you or another commander along with Dr. Webster are explaining the dynamics and soundness of the decision to negotiate a peaceful resolution."

Dr. Mike Webster appears on RCMP "training" tapes discussing options. This is the same Dr. Webster who was the Psychological adviser at the negotiations aimed at a peaceful resolution at Waco, Texas. He was also on the negotiating team in Peru with the Tupac Amaru. He teaches for part of the year at and FBI college in the US.

The huge and cumbersome RCMP force grew to "absurd proportions" according to a recent CBC broadcast. Ross Howard of the Globe and Mail noted that "there was a real doubt about the adequacy of the RCMP command. At times you had no idea who was sending instructions from who... The commander of the RCMP was losing control saying 'kill the prick.' He was referring to Bruce Clark at this point.'" The full quote reads: "kill this Clark and smear the prick and everyone with him."

The call for a public inquiry into the performance of the RCMP is rooted in such evidence which points towards the unprecipitated shooting of unarmed people and blatant disinformation. For example, the RCMP stated that the camp instigated a shoot out "and that the officers were actively pursued by persons from the camp and only great restraint on the part of the officers prevented what could have been a very serious incident... Shots were fired at them and a number are thought to have struck the vehicle." Later testimony from the RCMP forensics expert though determined that the vehicle struck a branch, panicking them to shoot wildly. (Pretrial Disclosures, June 14th, 1996)

Sentencing is to take place on June 6th [and 10th] and although many reports have equated the mischief charges with slaps on the wrist, the Crown is pressing for lengthy jail terms, not fines as some reported. It seems that both the call for a full public inquiry as well as the campaign to "Free Wolverine" far from coming to a close may have just begun.

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