Source of Resistance #3: Just Damage Control


Summer 1997



By Nicola Jordan and Rachel Iwaasa

It has long been common knowledge to traditional native people in Canada and across the world that "there is no justice, there's JUST US" in the coloniser courts and prisons. Now, in a perverse parade of soothing lies, the very power structure which attempted to murder the Sundancers at Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) for refusing to abandon their own unceded land - and then stitched them up in a fraudulent judicial process - is trying to convince the public that it holds a just, lenient and peaceful position.

Much of the current rhetoric of 'justice', 'healing' and 'resolution' centres around the 'traditional native sentencing circle', applied for by the lawyers of those defendants who have recanted their legal position and views on sovereignty and land rights and thrown themselves upon the mercy of the newcomer court. As stated by self-confessed "little weasel", 'defence' counsel Sheldon Tate, they "have a wish not to persecute or bring down this country or cause more rancor and dissension."

Traditionalists from many nations have spurned the sentencing circle on the following grounds:

*IT IS NOT TRADITIONAL: Coming from the Department of Indian Affairs colonial band council system, circle sentencing is a "new phenomenon in the criminal justice system of Canada" (Manuel Azevedo); it acts as a masked extension of that system and bears no resemblance to customary law. Under traditional law, the Ts'Peten defenders would be celebrated and honoured for defending their land and the future of their children. On the subject of the proposed sentencing circle, Haida elder Lavina White said, "That was not our way. This is all pretend, to make it look like our people don't support our freedom fighters."

*IT IS NOT ABORIGINAL: The white judge retains control over all aspects of the process. Reportedly, participants will include RCMP, the mayor and Chamber of Commerce of 100 Mile House and American rancher Lyle James. As Wolverine put it, "We're raising the land question. A sentencing circle including Lyle James would say it's his land, but the law has never been dealt with. This is one of the ways the province is trying to get around the whole thing."

*THE COURT HAS NO JURISDICTION: If the defendants agree to the circle, on traditionalist Lil'Wat elder pointed out, then they have atoned themselves to the jurisdiction of the BC court. Yet by natural, international and Canadian constitutional law, the jurisdiction of the colonial government, police and courts - including its sentencing circles - is subject to treaty or purchase of the land from the indigenous nations. No such treaty or purchase exists relative to the Ts'Peten Sundance grounds, on Shuswap territory. Josephson, like several BC judges before him, claims that the Delgamuukw (Gitskan Wet'suwet'en) case decided that Canada does have jurisdiction, despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada declared unequivocally on Sept.12, 1995, that Delgamuukw never dealt with that issue. In any case, the disputed jurisdiction can only be fairly adjudicated by a third party court which is neither Shuswap nor Canadian.

*THE DEFENDERS ARE NOT GUILTY: To participate in a sentencing circle, the accused must show remorse for their "crimes". The defenders will be expected to renounce their stand. As Wolverine explained, this will shut out the possibility of appeals. None of the accused pleaded guilty, because they were doing the right thing. "They were criminalized for protecting their inherent rights to practice their spirituality (religion). Criminalized for protecting the sacred Sundance grounds," declared Lil'Wat elder Lahalus. Or as James 'OJ' Pitawanakwat put it, "We were defending our people; we were defending our land."

Those defenders who continue to assert their original legal position, including political prisoners Wolverine and OJ, have very good reasons for withholding participation, even though have been told that they will receive tough sentences for not playing along. As defender Shelagh Franklin said, the authorities "claim they want to 'heal' when it was they who burnt the sacred Sundance arbor, they who only ever told lies and half truths when we were in the camp and in the courtroom. They tried to murder us, and now the criminals want to sit in judgment. They are trying to seal up the lie; they want closure".

This trial has opened an enormous can of worms and every effort is being made to clamp the lid back on. We are being assured not only that the court has found a culturally sensitive solution, but that the verdicts were charitable, the RCMP did in fact behave admirably and no further action is necessary. But how well do these stories stand up?

We're told that the 39 acquittals and 21 convictions were at best "a delicate compromise" (Times Colonist, May 22) or "a bold exercise in human compassion," (Vancouver Sun, May 24), at worst an outrageously lenient verdict, by jurors who "experienced a kind of traumatic bonding with the accused - a mild form of 'Stockholm syndrome'" (BC Report, June 2). In fact, the judge suppressed crucial evidence and directed the jury to convict. The Globe and Mail's Ross Howard claimed "no conceivable argument in defence of native militancy was left untried or was disallowed by B.C. Supreme Court judge Bruce Josephson." On the contrary, Josephson disallowed every one of the major defence arguments - self-defence, colour of right and jurisdiction - in the last weeks of the trial. His Reasons for Judgment, which are an exercise in creative logic, were not even filed until after the jury was sequestered.

The media have been delinquent in attending the trial, but not so much that they wouldn't know these facts. They no longer have the excuse that they are being held behind the RCMP barriers. Now, they are simply and unabashedly lying.

The media's complicity should perhaps not surprise us, given the outrageous lies they told in 1995. They are now recycling the same old RCMP misinformation, as though simply repeating it enough times will convince people. Most mainstream media quoted Sgt. Peter "Smear campaigns-are-our-specialty" Montague as though he were still a credible authority, telling us the RCMP "always tried to use moral suasion and avoid violence." How are we to reconcile this with Assistant Commissioner Brown's personal notes from Aug. 10, 1995: "The CO [Len Olfert] commented and I agreed that we need to clean them out entirely and not have any hanging issues similar to what happened at Oka"? More damning still are comments reportedly captured on RCMP 'training tapes,' like "Anyone got a gun? It's for a peaceful resolution" (Len Olfert), or "If there are natives on the ground and one has a weapon, I will empty two clips on full automatic in four seconds" (unidentified RCMP officer).

The Vancouver Sun once again trotted out Dr. Michael Webster, the FBI psy-ops consultant whose professional specialty is manipulating people into changing their minds, and who advised the "negotiations" at the Waco and Tupac Amaru slaughters as well as Gustafsen: "Police resisted pressure to move in and end the dispute with an attack... Although a firefight did erupt, it was a spontaneous action triggered when police felt they were under attack." (June 11, 1997, A1)

By now it should be well-known that police admit they initiated fire on camp members - who were on their way to collect water and meet with negotiators - after first blowing up their truck with a command mine and ramming it with an APC. The RCMP shot 77,000 rounds by latest estimate. Moreover, RCMP documents show the incident was planned well in advance. According to Brown's notes from Sept. 9, 1995, "Chief Supt. Johnston advised that Supt. Olfert wants to get more proactive and take down the red truck and occupants if they can." The "Tiger South Ops Plan" of the same day reads:

"This operation will be conducted on a clear day when Wescam [airborne camera] is available to assist with surveillance... An ambush site will be determined after a thorough recci of the area... In the event of resistance, gas will be deployed at the vehicle and the occupants forced to surrender. The ambush team will be positioned on one side of the road and the Bison ahead of the ambush location and out of sight. Upon detonation, the bison will approach the vehicle head-on."
RCMP snipers also admit that on Sept. 12, 1995 , they shot unprovoked at an unarmed camp member in a "no-shoot" zone, narrowly missing him. The very next day, they submitted a request to Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh for new military weapons (.50 calibre McMillan Sniper Rifles with Leupold scopes), saying:
"After conducting an analysis of the distances relating to the proximity of our Emergency Response resources to the militants' encampment... we find that the ranges exceed the capability of police sniping rifles."
Webster is trying to reassure us that Gustafsen is a blue-print of peaceful negotiation for police continent-wide. One shudders to think what the violent model looks like!

The whitewash and pacification is an attempt to reconstruct silence and public consent around the government's actions, a silence that is being broken as the tide of opinion about the Ts'Peten (Gustafsen Lake) Defenders appears to be turning. Hundreds of people turned out to demonstrate their support for the defendants - rallying in downtown Vancouver on May 31 and repeatedly making the long trip out to the Surrey Courthouse on June 6, 9 and 10. Non-native people in Canada are finally beginning to join indigenous nations and human rights organizations worldwide in demanding the release of the Defenders, a third party tribunal to adjudicate the land issue in BC, and a comprehensive public inquiry into the crisis at Ts'Peten.

So there is hope for a resolution or a 'happy ending' to Gustafsen Lake, but that hope does not reside in the current neo-colonial feel-good campaign. That hope, dear reader, resides in you.

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