Trial, Week 1: Summary


WEEK 1: July 8 - 11, 1996

   * Day 1: Monday, July 8                * Day 3: Wednesday, July 10
   * Day 2: Tuesday, July 9               * Day 4: Thursday, July 11


Edited by Roz Royce and Trond Halle, from notes by Trond Halle (Defendant)

Posted by FreeMedia - see also FreeMedia's account of Week One

MONDAY, JULY 8, 1996 - DAY 1

The opening day of court for the trial of the Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) Defenders began with one of the twelve jurors requesting to be released from her duties, due to financial difficulties. Since two alternate jurors had been added to the jury selection process during the first week of June, Judge Bruce Josephson was content to swear one of them in as the new twelfth juror. The five defense lawyers and the 18 defendants were pleased with the new jury of 6 men and 6 women.

Two of the defendants were absent from court and the Crown Counsel, Lance Bernard, was reluctant to start the opening submissions without them. However, the Judge ruled that until evidence was put forward, it wasn't necessary for the defendants to be present.

The jury was then brought in and the charges against the Defenders were read (which no longer includes the counts of trespass and forcible detainer). When the names of the accused were read, their lawyers pointed out their clients to the jury. Defendant Glen Deneault stood up and told the jury, "You are welcome in our country." The Judge then gave the jury his instructions as to the principles of law and the presumption of innocence. He explained that the defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and that the burden is on the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which he defined as one which arose when there was a reasonable alternative to the Crown's interpretation of an event.

Crown Counsel Lance Bernard opened his address to the jury with the inflammatory statement that "the events leading up to this trial are notorious." He conceded that although the number of accused (18) and the amount of evidence may make this a unique trial, the charges and the circumstances are no different than those of other criminal trials. He instructed the jury that although the Defense will claim that the disputed land is unceded, it wasn't their role to decide land claims. After giving the jury a synopsis of the Crown's version of events leading up to and occurring during the standoff, he then read them statements made by Wolverine (Jones Ignace) over the radio phone during the standoff, such as: "The laws of Canada do not apply here because we are native."

Harry Rankin, defense lawyer for Wolverine, insisted that this was an historical trial and that the defendants believed that the land they stood on has always been their land. Rankin presented a different version of events than those of the Crown, stating that Lyle James created a "confrontational" escalation of events, resulting in the RCMP's involvement, which then escalated tensions further. He told the jury that "it was a standoff of sorts: a moral standoff". He proceeded to discredit the Crown's case, citing the missing bullets from the RCMP officers who were alleged to have been "ambushed" by natives on August 27th and other incongruities and inconsistencies about the Crown's case. He also showed the RCMP as the "aggressors", not the "peaceful" negotiators they presented to the public.

George Wool, defense lawyer for five of the defendants, presented a view of history about British Columbia that many jury members had probably never heard before. It was a native history of the area known as "Gustafsen Lake" and a political analysis of the climate in B.C. during the hot summer of native standoffs in 1995. He then proceeded to cast doubt upon the Crown's case, insisting that Joseph (JoJo) Ignace was not at the camp on August 18, 1995, but in Chase, B.C. (JoJo is being charged with the attempted murder of Cst. Ray Wilby, one of five ERT members on a "covert" mission into the camp on August 18th.) Wool told the jury that the defense will challenge the Crown's evidence and raise reasonable doubt.

Both lawyers cast doubt on the land ownership, based upon Canadian law, and also on the shooting incidents. The Defense case was presented as dealing with mistakes in identity, excessive force by the RCMP escalating the event into a "standoff", manipulative use of the media and uncertainty as to the claims of ownership by Lyle James.

Defendant Shelagh Franklin, who is representing herself, thanked the Creator for life, her friends for courage and support and those in the court for the opportunity to speak. She spoke truthfully and passionately about the history of the land, its connection to the Shuswap nation and how that all changed when the colonizers arrived. She presented her sole defense - that of jurisdiction - and was clear and concise when informing the jury that since the land in question is unceded, the court and the RCMP have no jurisdiction to impose its laws upon the Shuswap people who live on it. The jurisdiction argument remains at the core of the Defenders' defense. Their participation in the court process is voluntary and comes from a dedication to get the truth out to the people.

TUESDAY, JULY 9, 1996 - DAY 2

Things got off to a shaky start when only one of the two defendants absent on Monday appeared in court today. Judge Josephson showed concern about calling the Crown's first witness without all of the accused present, but Wolverine (Jones Ignace), in prison since September 29, 1995, rose to his feet and told the judge, "I don't think it's fair to hold off while I'm still in jail." The judge decided to draw the inference that Shadow Potulicki had absconded, but withheld issuing a warrant for his arrest.

The Crown then called its first witness to the stand. RCMP Officer Ken Tassell (still a Constable after 23 years on the force) testified that he was assigned as the file co-ordinator for Gustafsen Lake around June 14, 1995, although he knew of the files since February, 1995. He also had direct knowledge of JoJo Ignace from his seven years assignment to the Chase Detachment previous to his three years at the 100 Mile House Detachment.

Cst. Tassell testified that on August 17, 1995 he was asked to drive five ERT members from the Kamloops RCMP Detachment in to the Gustafsen Lake area. Although he remembered the exact time (4:11 pm) when he picked up the ERT members from "a building" and the exact time when he picked them up the next day (9:15 am), he could not remember who gave him the orders to drive the team to the lake. He recalled that he was the only person available for the job at the time, giving the impression that there was nothing unusual about a "file co-ordinator" being asked to drive ERT members to a rendezvous point. Although he served as the central clearing house for all RCMP reports regarding Gustafsen Lake and could be considered an expert on the details of the RCMP case, he repeatedly told the court that he had no "direct knowledge" about the information he shared with the ERT members during the hour long drive. It was only when the fifth defense lawyer, Manuel Azevedo, cross-examined him that Cst. Tassell finally admitted that he had told the ERT members of his knowledge about Gustafsen Lake. Adding to the mystery of his role as "file co-ordinator" was the fact that although he has been on the force for 23 years, he chose these two days (August 17 and 18, 1995) to NOT take notes.

Cst. Tassell testified that the ERT members were dressed in camouflage, their faces were "painted" and they were armed with assault rifles. On August 18, 1995, at 6:24 a.m., Percy Rosette, the Faithkeeper of the sundance, phoned the RCMP from the camp, fearful of the armed men in the bush. Although Tassell admitted that to the casual observer "they didn't look like RCMP officers", he didn't call Percy back to reassure him that no one was coming in to kill him, nor did any other officer do so.

He confirmed that Gustafsen Lake is a popular place for all races for fishing, camping and hunting, that no permits were needed and that there was nothing unusual about seeing rifles in pick-up trucks there. He stated that no rifles had ever been confiscated in the area and that no one had ever been evicted or arrested in his three years of service at 100 Mile House. He confirmed that the area was also used for cattle grazing, but that there were no corrals or holding pens for the cattle on the land, nor did Lyle James have a house there. He made it clear that the RCMP do not generally assist in civil matters, even though Cpl. Hicks and Cpl. Bigland were assigned to help Lyle James evict Percy Rosette.

Cst. Tassell had collected reports from three native officers - Cst. Andrews, who had been in 100 Mile House for five years, Cst. Findley, stationed in Williams Lake, but requested by the RCMP to assist at 100 Mile House in June, 1995 and Cst. Wood, stationed at 100 Mile House as part of the "First Nations Community Police" Program. Staff Sgt. Sarich was in charge of these native officers, who were subsequently pulled from their duties at Gustafsen Lake before the arrival of the ERT squad on August 17, 1995. Although it had been quiet at the lake from August 10 to 17, Cst. Tassell had no "direct knowledge" of why the native officers were pulled or where they were re- assigned to. However, with the arrival of the ERT squad and the removal of the three native RCMP officers, tensions escalated dramatically at the site.

Cst. Tassell admitted that he had access to and read all reports from June 13, 1995 onwards, including those reports from native officers who reported of the historical land rights for the Shuswap Nation and the existence of native burial grounds at Gustafsen Lake.

Overall, Cst. Tassell was evasive when it might have implicated his superiors, but had a good selective memory on all other events.

Shelagh Franklin, one of the defendants representing herself, asked Cst. Tassell if he had any knowledge of constitutional law. Judge Josephson interrupted Tassell's response and stated, "If he did, I wouldn't hear it."

   * Day 1: Monday, July 8                * Day 3: Wednesday, July 10
   * Day 2: Tuesday, July 9               * Day 4: Thursday, July 11