May 21/97: Cops' antics at Ts'peten "not funny"



The Province, p. A14
Wednesday, May 21, 1997
Holly Horwood -- Staff Reporter

It could have been a bloodbath - or at least another Oka. But the final tally in the 30-day Gustafsen Lake armed standoff was: One dead dog, one bullet in the arm of defendant Suniva Bronson, and one hot slug allegedly lodged and subsequently thrown away - in the pants of an RCMP officer.

"It was a miracle no one was killed," says Kamloops lawyer Don Campbell, who represented five of the accused.

"From some perspectives the RCMP operation was comical - but only because no one was killed."

Unlike the 1990 native standoff in Oka, Que., which left one police officer dead, Gustafsen ended quietly on Sept. 17, 1995.

But the ensuing 10-month trial pulled an official veil from the RCMP operation headed by Kamloops Supt. Len Olfert.

It raised eyebrows, prompted demands for a public inquiry and blackened the image of Canada's national police force.

Yesterday, RCMP Sgt. Peter Montague said police "would do substantially the same thing" given another standoff.

"In the face of violence you try to contain the situation and deal with it," said Montague, who was the Mounties media officer during the standoff.

During testimony, jurors heard of the RCMP plan to drop oats laced with poison from aircraft to kill the natives' horses - a never-used scheme intended to stop the animals from alerting the camp by neighing.

Court also heard that the RCMP released criminal records of shadowy camp figure "Johnny Guitar" at a press conference - while the man listened from the back of the room. [Guitar was in fact never in the camp, nor were several others whose records were released. Guitar is considering a civil suit against the RCMP on this basis - S.I.S.I.S.]

Then there was the RCMP reference to the camp's "early warning canine detection" - noisy dogs to the rest of us.

More unsettling was evidence of information manipulation, a buildup of military-style assault weapons and descriptions of assault plans on the camp.

"The RCMP were on a war footing" with natives, defence lawyer Sheldon Tate alleged.

The court heard the RCMP:

* Released juvenile criminal records of some of those believed in the camp - normally done only for sexual predators or fugitives. RCMP denied this was part of their "misinformation" and "smear" strategy jokingly referred to in meetings. Montague admitted he lied when he told a reporter most of those in the camp were murderers. Media were urged not to talk to other RCMP, to maintain the "official messaging," as Montague described it.

* Used military lingo and tactics, including describing sites as "Zulu" and "Hanging Tree." There were plans to use up to 4,000 officers to "neutralize" the native camp, which held about 40 people.

* Secretly brought in Bison armored personnel carriers borrowed from the Canadian Forces to be used to "assault" the camp, a plan later canceled. Search warrants usually required were never obtained. The RCMP had submachine-guns, night-vision goggles, "sniper" rifles, trace flares and stun grenades.

* Fired from an aircraft at a native in an agreed-upon "safe zone." The bullet narrowly missed the man. An internal investigation was promised.

* Ordered five more APC's and an additional 20,000 rounds of .222 ammunition after Sept. 12 as people started to leave the camp. A request for .50-calibre sniper rifles was turned down, but guns were later obtained from an RCMP museum in Vancouver an a gun dealer in Phoenix.

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