“We cannot call ourselves a nation if we don’t want to defend what is rightfully ours.”
Wolverine, Defenders of the Land, 1995
In the summer of 1995, a month-long standoff occurred between Indigenous peoples & police near 100 Mile House, in the southern-interior region of British Columbia (BC). This land is the ancestral homeland of the Secwepemc (Shuswap).
Altogether, over 450 heavily-armed officers from various RCMP Emergency Response Teams (ERT), with military assistance, including 9 armoured personnel carriers, were deployed against some 24 defenders of a Sundance camp. In the end, it would be the largest RCMP paramilitary operation in Canadian history, costing over $5 million. Nearly half of this, $2.3 million, was for RCMP overtime.
The incident began after a local white rancher, Lyle James began demanding that a Secwepemc Sundance camp leave land to which he claimed ownership. Despite harassment from the rancher & his cowboys, members of the camp were determined to stay.
Although local Native RCMP officers regularly visited the camp on patrols, they saw little need to intervene and viewed the dispute as a civil matter between the Natives & the rancher. The title of the land itself was in question, not just by Indigenous sovereigntists: had James bought the land, or did he lease it, making it “Crown land”?
These cops advised their superiors there was no need for armed intervention, and believed the dispute could be settled through negotiations.
Senior RCMP officers, however, saw it as an opportunity to carry out a major paramilitary operation. All through the spring there had been road-blocks, at one location or another, in the province.
The New Democratic Party (NDP), the provincial government at the time, had seen a drop in public support after several corruption scandals. NDP strategists saw this as an opportunity to renew support based on a “get tough”, law & order stance against Native “terrorists.”
The RCMP jumped at the chance to conduct a large-scale “anti-terrorist” operation. In mid-August, they began sending in heavily-armed ERT units to conduct surveillance of the camp.
After alleged shooting incidents, the RCMP sealed off the area and laid siege to the encampment. By late August, they had brought in Bison armoured personnel carriers (APCs); on September 11, they carried out a major attack against the defenders, ambushing a vehicle with explosives & opening fire on unarmed occupants. The next day, a police sniper attempted to shoot and kill another unarmed defender.
During the siege, media were tightly controlled and had no access to defenders. They were given only the RCMP’s version of events, which many reported as fact. In the year-long trial that followed, it was revealed that the RCMP had conducted a self-described “smear & disinformation” campaign, using the media to undermine & isolate the defenders. Shooting incidents had also been fabricated, along with the release of criminal records for persons not present, as well as juveniles (an illegal act in Canada).
In the short-term, this strategy was successful in largely isolating the defenders & undermining public support, even among many Indigenous peoples, despite the fact that there was, and is, widespread support for the stated goals & beliefs of the defenders (i.e., that BC is virtually all unceded, sovereign Indigenous territory).
This standoff occurred during the same time as that at Ipperwash/Aazhoodena (in southern Ontario), where heavily-armed police also opened fire, killing Dudley George Sept 6, 1995.
The siege at Ts’Peten was a direct challenge to the state’s legal & political authority, including the question of land & Indigenous sovereignty.
The defenders based their positions on both Canadian & international law, including the 1763 Royal Proclamation, which bound the British to make treaties prior to any settlement or trade.
In accordance with their position as sovereign peoples, the defenders requested international third-party adjudication. Although portrayed as absurd by the media & government during the standoff, these positions are widely held among Indigenous people in the province, and have been since the 1870s.
The defenders were also opposed to the Indian Act reserve & band council system, which they saw as illegitimate. Those who participated in this system as councilors or chiefs were denounced as collaborators, and in fact many did collaborate with the RCMP during the siege, helping police isolate the defenders and rationalizing the use of deadly force.
The BC treaty process, begun by the NDP after the 1990 Oka Crisis, was also denounced as a fraud, carried out by the colonial government and its collaborators to legitimize the theft of Indigenous land.
In response to this threat, the NDP authorized the RCMP to carry out the largest paramilitary operation in Canadian history, for a small piece of land with no strategic value or critical infrastructure.
Gustafsen Lake ’95, and the year long trial in 1996-97, contributed to the radicalization of the then-emerging Vancouver Native Youth Movement. Among the NYM’s first major actions were occupations of the BC Treaty Commission offices in Vancouver (1997 & ‘98), and a general campaign asserting the sovereignty of Indigenous territories & peoples.
Gustafsen Lake is located approximately 30 km south-west of 100 Mile House in south-central BC. It is a wilderness area, and is also known as Ts’Peten (pronounced cha-patten, known as “Big Lake”) by the Secwepemc, who have used the area for thousands of years.
Although located in a remote forest area, Ts’Peten is accessible by logging roads cutting through the area. The area is occasionally used by campers, fishermen, & local ranchers.
In 1989, Secwepemc began using the area for an annual Sundance. Although the land was claimed by Lyle James (an American rancher), he did not seem to mind their use of their territory. Lyle James had reportedly bought, or leased, the land, beginning in the early 1970s, and used it for cattle-ranching. The James Cattle Co. had approximately 2,000 cattle.
At the same time, Secwepemc elder William Ignace (Wolverine) began raising the issue of Indigenous land & sovereignty, attending international conferences and seeking access to UN bodies. These included attempts to address the international court at the Hague in 1991, an address to a UN meeting in New York in 1992, and a presentation at a gathering in New Mexico, 1993, with a UN Special Rapporteur.
Over the years, the Sundance camp had become more permanent, and relations between ranchers & the Secwepemc deteriorated.
By February ’95, Lyle James had begun legal proceedings to have the Sundancers removed. James’ lawyer’s contacted the local RCMP 100 Mile House detachment. The objective of the police was to have the Sundance cancelled or moved to a new location. Staff Sgt. Sarich enlisted the assistance of Indian Act chiefs Agnes Snow & Antoine Archie to persuade the Sundancers to leave.
Throughout the spring of 1995, road-blocks occurred in the BC southern interior at Penticton, Adams Lake & Douglas Lake.
At Adams Lake, also Secwepemc territory 30 miles north of Kamloops, tensions were high after local whites harassed the blockaders & there are confrontations with police. The blockade is erected to stop a construction project on burial grounds.
At Douglas Lake, near Merritt, a blockade was set up to protest rancher’s attempts to block access to fishing grounds. An RCMP ERT unit is discovered conducting surveillance on the blockade camp.
Near Penticton, members of the Okanagan nation had blockaded a road running through their reserve-territory to the proposed Apex Alpine ski resort expansion.
At Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, Indigenous people had also blocked roads.
At a gathering of the Sovereign People’s Information Network (SPIN), held in Penticton, representatives from the Ts’Peten Sundance also presented their case.
Summer 1995 (June-July)
In June & July, 1995, incidents of harassment by cowboys working for Lyle James increased.
On June 13, Lyle James & twelve others entered the camp in four vehicles and served an eviction notice (as advised by police). One cowboy had a bullwhip. They began photographing & videotaping the area. They removed a wood-stove from the camp and broke the door to a shack.
On June 15, a drunken cowboy on horseback entered the camp & was confronted. He told the camp members that they were going to burn their camp down, and that the RCMP were preparing an invasion. On June 22, RCMP would interview campers in the area who complained about being harassed by a drunken cowboy on horseback a week prior (Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege, p. 98).
On June 17, the defenders issued a press statement regarding these threats & demanded the government investigate the illegal selling & leasing of Indigenous territories.
That same day, representatives from James Cattle Co., the RCMP, & local bands (Dog Creek, Canoe Creek, Canim Lake & Alkali Lake) arrive at the camp. They are greeted by three warriors in camouflage with face-paint. The police were only allowed to enter the grounds if unarmed (with which they complied).
According to a June 18 Defender’s press release, a company representative stated their concern that the law had been broken,
“The Defenders agreed with the fact that the law had been broken but only in regard to the James Cattle Co. who is illegally squatting within unceded Shuswap territory. The Defenders further advised each & every representative of the federal government that they were illegally enforcing the position of the rancher who has not produced a valid deed to the land” (Defender’s Press Release, June 18, 1995).
In a June 19 press release, the Defenders quote the advise of their legal counsel, Bruce Clark:
“It is clear & plain that the Rule of Law is not functioning in the Aboriginal rights context. Since the non-native judges, lawyers, & police historically led & presently excuse the illegal invasion of the Indians’ yet unsurrendered territories, it is equally clear & plain that the request for access to an independent & impartial tribunal, requested by you and the other Indigenous people in the Petition to the Queen, is crucial. Canada’s continued stonewalling of that access aids and abets the genocide resulting from the aforementioned fraudulent & treasonable invasion. Rest assured that, as a matter of strict law, you are acting within your existing legal rights by resisting the invasion”
(Defender’s Press Release, June 19, 1995).
In early July, the Sundance was held. There were approximately 30 people in camp, 12 of whom were Sundancers.
On July 12, RCMP Const. Findley, one of three Native officers assigned to Gustafsen Lake but later pulled out, noted that the,
“Sundancers were not being supported by local natives or bands however they are firm in their beliefs that they are occupying native land which was basically stolen from the natives. No indication they will be leaving soon” (Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege, p. 103).
On July 20, a meeting is held with a delegation from the camp & the Cariboo Tribal Council. This degenerates into a shouting match.
That evening, Lyle James telephones police & reports that one of his cowboys had been shot at. Defenders claim a cowboy had entered the camp & accused them of theft & releasing his horses. They denied this and told him to leave. As he left, shots were fired near the camp, & two warning shots were returned by defenders.
On July 21, trees are felled across a logging road near the camp.
On July 26, two Aboriginal Fisheries Officers encounter six members of the camp, who allegedly fire a shot over their head as they leave.
August: Armed Intervention Begins
On August 11, two members of the camp—Ernie Archie & David Pena– were arrested on the Fraser River (30 km west of Ts’Peten) by Fisheries Officers. They are alleged to be fishing “illegally.” Officers find weapons in their vehicle: an AK-47 rifle and a 9 mm pistol.
Around this time, 24-hour Wescam aerial surveillance of the Sundance camp begins.
On August 15, Const. Ray Wilby met with Supt. Len Olfert to discuss an ERT reconnaissance of the Gustafsen Lake camp.
On August 17, Const. Andrews, a Native cop who had worked with the Sundancers for years, showed 100 Mile House ERT member Const. Callander the camp area.
Andrews, a long-time veteran of the force who had been at 100 Mile House since 1989, along with two other Aboriginal police officers, were now pulled from the case & re-assigned. They had advised against armed intervention and believed that negotiations would be successful.
Later that night (Aug 17), a five member ERT unit is sent in to conduct reconnaissance of the camp. They are armed with M-16s, a .308 sniper rifle, and their 9-mm sidearms.
On August 18, at approx. 5:00 am, the ERT unit disturbed horses in the camp, which alerted the camp. They discover the camouflaged & heavily-armed ERT members, but are unable to identify them as police or not. Some believe they could be armed white vigilantes & telephone the RCMP.
At 100 Mile House, Const. Andrews claims the armed men are not cops. He and Const. Woods proceed to the camp, but are pulled back by Cpl. Hicks (Const. Andrews court testimony, July 25, 1996). That morning, shots are allegedly fired at the ERT unit, who quickly withdraw.
That same day, RCMP deputy commissioner Dennis Farrell makes an ‘unofficial’ request for military assistance, including APCs. Within days, the Canadian Forces begins planning & preparing, although it seeks to conceal any involvement. The military even requests that the RCMP clearly identify the APCs as police vehicles.
On August 19, RCMP hold a press conference, where they announce that officers conducting a “discreet reconnaissance” had been shot at the day prior. They also display weapons seized on Aug 11 at the Fraser River. The RCMP declares those in the Gustafsen Lake camp to be “terrorists”. RCMP Supt. Len Olfert states:
“This can’t go on forever. We won’t sit back and do nothing. We have all the residents to consider and the area has to be secured. There has been an escalation; the threat is serious. We see this as an act of terrorism” (The Vancouver Sun, August 20, 1995).
Bison APC’s Moved to Kamloops, August 21
Prior to any official approval, four Bison 8×8 armoured personnel carriers were transported from Alberta to Kamloops (approx. 150 km south of 100 Mile House), where both the crews & their vehicles were confined in an armoury to prevent detection by locals (i.e., Secwepemc). As well, no military planes were to use any nearby airports.
Both military personnel & RCMP officers were told not to discuss involvement of the Canadian Forces in any way.
Shots Fired at Helicopter, August 24
Shots are fired at a police helicopter flying low over the camp on Aug 24. Video footage of this is later turned over to the media. In the footage, a warrior (Pitawanakwat) is shown firing several rounds from an AK-47 at a helicopter.
Official Request for Military Assistance (Aug 25)
On August 25, based on requests from the RCMP, the BC Attorney General (Ujjal Dosanjh) made a formal request to the Solicitor General of Canada (Herb Gray), requesting four APCs, one bomb disposal team, and one hundred allotments of one-day rations.
This request was processed to the Department of National Defense and responded to on Aug 27.
As noted, these APCs were already moved to Kamloops on August 21, where they were secretly kept in an armoury.
Along with each APC were a military driver & commander. In order to maintain the facade of a purely RCMP operation, the APC’s had signs affixed reading ‘Police”.
Also at this time, 80 helmets, 92 flak vests, and 11 bunker shields were shipped by Air Canada to the Kamloops airport.
A further request for military aid would be made Sept 12 for five additional APCs, and four .50-calibre sniper rifles, along with notes that JTF2 be deployed.
This military deployment was carried out under Operations Iron Horse & Wallaby.
Defender’s Communications Cut, August 25
On Aug 25, the RCMP cut off the defender’s radio-phone, their only contact to the outside world. Later, Sgt. Montague would say this was so that defenders “can’t be further influenced by their lawyer, Bruce Clark, which is a problem” (The Vancouver Sun, Aug 30, 1995).
The radio-phone is now a direct line to the police. Reporters are able to listen in on negotiations, but for the most part comply with RCMP demands to not report on these.
AFN Mercredi Visits, Shot Fired, August 26
On Aug 26, Assembly of First Nations grand chief Ovide Mercredi visits camp & attempts to negotiate a surrender. The defenders denounce him as a collaborator. As he leaves the camp, a shot is fired.
Mercredi tells the media that the defenders are breaking the law, and have bad legal advice. Nevertheless, he also states that they are not “terrorists” or criminals, & that they believe strongly in their cause. He urges the RCMP not to use force.
Alleged Shooting of Suburban, August 27
On August 27, RCMP report that “two officers were hit by machine gun fire [in an] ambush near the renegade native camp,” but were “saved from injury or death by their flak jackets.” According to police, their vehicle is heavily damaged, with windows and tires shot out. The police were reportedly escorting forestry workers to remove fallen trees on roads when they came under fire.
Two days later, a badly shot up Suburban was displayed to the media.
During the 1996-97 trial, no material evidence was ever presented in relation to this incident, no persons charged, and Wescam footage, which could have confirmed this attack, somehow ‘disappears’.
Const. Molendyk later testified he was in the Suburban and was hit with a round, which did not penetrate his flak vest, but which fell under his belt. As it burned, he took it and threw it out the window (court testimony, Sept 12, 1996).
Union Chief Condemns RCMP & Government, August 28
On August 28, Saul Terry, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, released a statement accusing the Attorney General, RCMP & media as having gone,
“to great lengths to discredit the Shuswap sundancers and their supporters at Gustafsen Lake as dangerous fanatics in order to justify the use of armed force to remove them from the Sundance grounds… In trying to discredit & isolate the sundancers, the RCMP & Attorney General are laying the groundwork for bloodshed—needless bloodshed. I condemn the RCMP and the Attorney General for the dangerous, provocative course they have embarked upon… The positions expressed by the sundancers on their nations sovereignty and aboriginal title and rights are not “extremist.” They are shared by many Indian peoples across this province. British Columbia is unceded Indian land… Our peoples demand JUSTICE and RECOGNITION but whenever they stand up for their rights, they are subjected to the RULE OF LAW and POLICE STATE TACTICS!”
(UBCIC Press Release, August 28, 1995).
Solidarity Action in Victoria, August 28
On Aug 28, three protesters chained themselves to equipment in the Victoria legislature office of Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, while dozens gather outside to denounce the NDP & RCMP.
RCMP Slam Media, August 29
After some media outlets report on radio-phone negotiations between police & defenders, Sgt. Montague tells a news conference the RCMP is “appalled” with news reports & calls them inaccurate, misleading, confusing and “possibly unlawful.”
Although virtually all media are monitoring the radio-phone, only a few report the content of negotiations (defenders request tobacco, canned goods, & access to their lawyer Bruce Clark).
Solidarity Protest in Washington DC, August 29
On Aug 29, Indigenous organizations rally at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC, to denounce the siege at Ts’Peten. A delegation meets with embassy officials. Among these are Billy Redwing Tayac, hereditary chief of the Piscataway, & representatives from the Native Youth Alliance, Associacion Nacional Indigenines de El Salvador (ANIS), and others.
Mohawks Occupy Government Building, August 30
On Aug 30 in Brantford Ont., Mohawks occupy a government building in solidarity with the defenders at Gustafsen Lake.
Two Defenders Leave Camp, August 30
On Aug 30, Stuart & Francis Dick left the camp and were arrested. Meanwhile, RCMP refused entry to the defender’s lawyer, Bruce Clark, saying they could not guarantee his safety inside the camp (as if he wanted, or needed, RCMP protection from his own clients).
Camp Zulu Established, Late-August
Sometime in late August, a secret military-police command post is established, 10 km away from Gustafsen Lake. Called Camp Zulu (a common police codeword for ERT units), it has a field hospital, kitchen, communications center, sleeping quarters, two helicopters, the Bison APCs, and other equipment.
The camp is kept secret to conceal the extent of military involvement, and the overall nature of the operation.
From Camp Zulu, ERT units are moved by Suburbans, and later by APCs, into the Ts’Peten area. They conduct regular patrols & surveillance of the defenders & their camp.
Using sophisticated communications gear, RCMP commanders at Zulu were also able to watch live-feeds of surveillance footage shot by high-flying planes equipped with Wescam cameras.
RCMP Set Up Command Post, September 1
On September 1, more RCMP officers begin to arrive in 100 Mile House. RCMP establish a command post in an abandoned warehouse in town. It serves as a media & communications center, and provides logistical support to Camp Zulu.
Police Note on Shoot-to-Kill, September 1
During the 1996-97 trial, it was revealed that senior RCMP believed “There are 6 hardliners in the camp who will require killing” (Chief Supt. Johnston notes from telephone conversation with Supt. Len Olfert, Sept 1, 1995, court evidence).
In court, Olfert also stated that in the event of a final assault on the camp, “I think our expectation was we could expect casualties on both sides” (“Mountie denies seeking deaths,” The Province, January 7, 1997).
Police Seal Off Area, September 2
On September 2, the RCMP announce a 2,000 square mile “no-go zone” around Ts’Peten.
Alleged Shooting & Stalking, September 4
At a Sept 5 press conference in 100 Mile House, Cpl John Ward reported that during the night hours of Sept 4, “four RCMP officers came under fire from armed natives from the Gustafsen Lake camp… shots were fired at them and a number are thought to have struck the vehicle… [officers] were actively pursued by persons from the armed camp and only great restraint on the part of the officers prevented what could have been a very serious incident” (The Vancouver Sun, Sept. 6/95).
The RCMP also reported that Natives had “stalked” these police — members of Victoria ERT– through the night. They had been driving their suburban down a logging road when the rear-mirror view suddenly shattered. They opened fire into the forest and took off.
During pre-trial disclosures (on June 14, 1996), it was revealed that RCMP forensics analysis had determined that what actually struck the vehicle was probably a tree branch, which struck the rear-view mirror & broke it, panicking the officers and causing them to shoot wildly into the forest (“cover fire”).
APC’s Deployed, September 5
As a result of this alleged shooting, four Bison APC’s were sent in to, supposedly, extract the officers to safety. RCMP assured the press that the APCs were to be used “strictly in a defensive posture.” Using positive-key words, the RCMP portrays this huge escalation of combat power as somehow being benign (kind & gentle):
“We are hopeful that by deploying these vehicles as a defensive precaution, we can resume peaceful dialogue with the members in the encampment” (CBC Radio, September 5, 1995).
“The deployment of the armoured vehicles is a defensive measure and not a sign of an imminent assault” (RCMP Cpl. John Ward, “Tensions rise between RCMP & militants,” The Globe & Mail, Sept. 6, 1995).
The RCMP’s concern about reaction to the APCs was caught on video, with Supt. Len Olfert (commanding officer) saying,
“Once the APCs come out of the package, there will be a war. It will be a war” (Video Aug 30, 1995, quoted in Holly Horwood, “RCMP feared a ‘war’,” The Province, Jan. 9, 1997.
During the 1996 trial, CF Capt. Daniel Blanc testified that the use of the military had been secret until the “fire-fight” of September 4. As noted, approval for deployment of the four Bison APCs had been given August 27, although they were already moved into Kamloops on August 21. The APCs were moved by flat-bed trucks.
Ipperwash: Dudley George is Killed, September 6
On Sept 6, Ontario police open fire on unarmed Aazhoodena defenders (at Ipperwash, Ontario), killing Dudley George & a dog, and wounding a 15 year old youth.
Alleged Shooting at Helicopter, September 7
According to the RCMP, a police Bell Jet Ranger helicopter flying over the camp is shot at by defenders. Due to the prior helicopter shooting incident (Aug 24), the Jet Ranger keeps an altitude beyond that of effective small-arms fire (2,000 meters).
Although the pilot and others claimed to hear gunshots, it is unclear whether these are fired at the helicopter. One person claims to have heard no shots at all. After the helicopter lands, no signs of bullet strikes are found.
Elder’s Delegation Visits Camp, September 8-10
On Sept 8, 9, and 10, a delegation of Secwepemc elders visits the camp, bringing in food & tobacco. In negotiations, defenders request access to water & firewood.
No-Shoot Zone Set Up, Sept 10
On September 10, the RCMP released a map of a negotiated “safe-zone” around the camp, effective at 12 noon Sept 10. This zone had been established with the defenders during talks. Overall, it appeared as if negotiations were ongoing & that the RCMP were hopeful of a “peaceful resolution.”
Ambush of Truck, Sept 11
On September 11, RCMP & military personnel conducted an ambush of a defender’s vehicle. The red pick, used to get firewood and water, had been an annoying concern to RCMP members. In the days prior to Sept 11, plans were made to disable the truck. A senior officers’ notes describes this as:
“Chief Supt. Johnston advised that Supt. Olfert wants to get more proactive and take down the red truck and occupants if they can” (Brown’s notes, Sept 9/95, court disclosure).
Operations plans for this same day describes how the ambush was to occur:
“This operation will be conducted on a clear day when Wescam [aerial surveillance] is available to assist with surveillance… An ambush site will be determined after a thorough recci [recon] 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.”
In the dark, early morning hours of Sept 11, police & APCs are moved into position. ERT members are deployed as security forces, while an explosives team prepare to lay “datasheet” charges across the road. They use picks & shovels to dig a line in which to conceal the explosives. After placing the charge, they cover it & remove obvious traces of their work.
For several hours, the ERTs & APC waited in silence. Besides the Wescam surveillance, they also had a forward observation post to alert them when the vehicle was on its way. Later, as the truck drives down the dirt road, carrying two occupants and a dog, the ambush is executed.
As the truck’s front end passes over the charge, an ERT member detonates it and a massive explosion is set off. Later, the truck’s battery is found over 150 feet away, blown out of the truck by the force of the blast. A huge column of smoke billows into the air, and the area is engulfed in smoke & dust.
Dazed, the two occupants (Pitawanakwat & Bronson) flee the vehicle and began running into the forest, followed by their dog. A Bison emerges from the woods and smashes into the pick-up, twice. Police then approach the vehicle on foot, and find that the occupants are gone. They find an AK-47 and a rifle in the truck.
By this time, other had officers opened fire on the now-unarmed occupants as they fled, killing the dog (all of this is documented by Wescam, was released as court evidence, and can be seen in the documentary Above the Law, Part 2).
A police dog tracks the two to the lake, where they are seen wading across, still unarmed. The Bison moves to intercept them & waits on the other side. As they approach, RCMP standing in the open hatch of the Bison open fire. Bullets then hit the APC, and it moves off in pursuit of the two shooters, attempting to run them down (these shooters were the elder Wolverine & a younger warrior codenamed Shadow).
The Bison is then disabled, either by fire from Wolverine’s AK-47 directed at the wheels, or from breaking its axle on an overturned tree, or a combination of both. The police inside are trapped and wait for a second Bison to arrive, which is filled with members of Kamloops ERT. It backs up to the disabled Bison in order to rescue the stranded unit.
As rounds hit the APCs, one officer runs across the six feet of open ground separating the APC’s rear-doors. They decide it’s too dangerous to extract the remaining cops, and call for two more Bisons.
During this entire time, other ERT members at different locations across the lake are also firing in the direction of the Bisons. Some are as far as 1,500 meters away, far beyond the effective range of an M-16 (500 meters). During the trial, more than one officer admitted that some rounds that hit the APCs could have been “friendly-fire.”
Despite claims of hundreds of rounds striking the armoured vehicles, forensic analysts found that only 26 rounds had hit the disabled Bison. Altogether, between 150-200 rounds in total are fired by the defenders on Sept 11.
As for their firing thousands of rounds into the forest, RCMP later described this as “cover fire.”
One defender (Suniva Bronson) was hit in the arm with a .223 round.
As many as 60 RCMP officers were involved in the assault, with 20,000-77,000 rounds being fired. In contrast, only 200 or so were fired by defenders. The shooting & assault lasted approximately 3 hours.
RCMP Version of Sept 11 Attack
On Sept 11, RCMP media liaison officer, Sgt. Pete Montague, issued a statement in regards to the attack, reporting that a
“camp truck knowingly violated a no-go zone” and was subsequently “disabled by an early warning device… two or three armed natives then ran from the truck firing semi-automatic weapons at RCMP officers, which sparked a gun battle lasting nearly two hours during which thousands of rounds were exchanged” (The Vancouver Sun, Sept 12, 1995).
The next day, Sgt. Allen Armstrong, in a statement taken as part of RCMP documentation, states that he expected the “occupants might not be able to leave on their own power though it was an untested procedure so we weren’t exactly sure how the explosive would effect the truck” (RCMP training video, 1996-97 court disclosures).
During the trial, even RCMP officers who took part in the assault state that the occupants were not armed and that RCMP first opened fire. Wescam footage also clearly shows the two defenders leaving the truck unarmed. As they run, police are shooting at them, and kill the dog (see Above the Law, Part 2, 1997).
Two Defenders Leave Camp, Sept 11
Two defenders leave camp and are arrested: Glen Dennault & Ed Dick (both are Secwepemc).
RCMP Snipers Open Fire, Sept 12
The next day, police snipers opened fire on an unarmed camp occupant going for water. In Wescam surveillance footage, he is clearly seen unarmed and wearing a red or pink shirt. He is walking in a previously established no-shoot zone (this footage is also contained in Above the Law 2, 1997).
Several rounds are fired, none of which hit the target. The next day, police request, through the Attorney-General’s office, 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.”
During the 1996 trial, RCMP Cst. Malcolm Callander testifies that he was at a sniper’s position with two other officers on the morning of Sept 12, when he spotted a man walking from the camp. He states:
“We were quite surprised when we saw this individual, as he was dressed in camouflage and also wearing a ghillie suit… I could see with the aid of a spotting scope that he was carrying a high-powered long-barrelled rifle which appeared to be similar to an AK-47.”
RCMP Inspector Kemble, the Field Commander during this incident, later testified that upon viewing the Wescam live-feed (back at Camp Zulu), he determined the man was indeed armed and gave orders to shoot him.
According to Const. Callander, first Const. O’Gorman fired two shots then handed the rifle to Cpl. Wyton, who fired another shot. All shots missed their target. Later, Callander states he learned the shots were fired in a “safe-zone” and was concerned about possible legal action arising out of the incident.
Two Defenders Leave Camp, Sept 12
On the afternoon of Sept 12, two more camp occupants left and were arrested by the RCMP: Ron Dionne (Mohawk) & Sheila Ignace (Secwepemc)
More Ammunition Requested, Sept 12
On Sept 12, Sgt. Ken Gates orders 20,000 rounds of ammunition to replace those fired during the previous day’s assault. Altogether, some 77,000 rounds of ammunition were requested by the RCMP.
More Military Aid Requested, Sept 12
On Sept 12, RCMP made further requests for military assistance, including five additional APCs and four .50-calibre sniper rifles.
The military source for the sniper rifles, JTF2, claim they do not have them. The RCMP, with the assistance of the FBI, reportedly purchase .50-cal. sniper rifles from an arms dealer in Arizona.
RCMP Request JTF2, September 13
For the mostly urban ERT units, the siege in the woods at Ts’Peten had begun to lose its appeal. Many were tired of the long hours, they were also spooked by the night & wild animals. The Sept 11 ambush had turned into a nightmare, with cops stranded in a broken-down APC. They had panicked, firing tens of thousands of rounds into the forest.
During the 1996-97 trial, RCMP disclosures included a Sept 13, 1995, report by RCMP assistant commissioner Murray Johnston to another senior officer. In it, he describes the stress of the operation & advises that the military anti-terrorist unit, Joint Task Force 2, be called:
“We do not have the resources to deal with this situation… it is hell… we should not be here, we do not belong… beyond our skills… this is a military operation… members are very frightened… everyone—members, PO’s all stressed… everyone too tired… One team may break… tired, low morale—the situation is desperate… Brown call military recommend liaison with JTF2.”
A reporter later described the decision to call in the army commandos following the botched Sept 11 attack:
“The RCMP officers escaped injury in the largely one-sided gun-battle in which they fired off thousands of rounds into the surrounding forest. But the morale of the ERT units was broken. At 7:40 pm that same night, the RCMP requested that a JTF2 liaison officer proceed immediately to Gustafsen Lake & that the counter-terrorism unit begin a reconnaissance in preparation to take over duties from the exhausted police tactical squads” (Canada’s Secret Commandos, p. 54).
Officially, all records of JTF2 involvement at Ts’Peten are classified. According to one account, JTF2 was deployed & carried out “covert intelligence gathering as well as determining the lay of the land in case the entire unit was needed for an assault on the native encampment” (Canada’s Secret Commandos, p. 55).
Brigadier-General Robert Meating, the military liaison with police at Gustafsen Lake, believed that if the army were to take control, it would require a brigade-sized force of approx. 4,000 soldiers to contain the entire 25 square km area.
Arvol Looking Horse Visits, September 13
On Sept 13, Lakota spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse visited the Sundance camp. The RCMP were so confident that Looking Horse would win a surrender that they had media ready for his return. Instead, the defenders stayed inside.
Radio Broadcast by Chief, September 13
On Sept 13, RCMP arranged to have a message broadcast over CBC radio, assuring the defenders they would not be harmed if they surrendered. The broadcast was made in both English & Secwepemc, by Antoine Archie, chief of the Canim Lake band.
Archie, seen as a collaborator by the defenders, was a bad choice to make any such assurances. His role may have been to give the appearance that all reasonable attempts at a negotiated settlement had been made by police.
One Defender Leaves Camp, Sept 13
On Sept 13, another person left the camp and was arrested: Brent Potoluchi (Secwepemc/Okanagan, also known as Shadow).
Defenders Remain Defiant, September 14
On Sept 14, the defenders announced they would not leave their positions until their original demands were met, and UN observers were brought in as observers to guarantee their safety.
Bruce Clark Arrested at Court, September 15
As lawyer Bruce Clark arrives in 100 Mile House to represent 5 persons recently arrested from Ts’Peten, he is denied access to court by sheriffs. Clark protests this and is assaulted by 7 RCMP and four sheriffs. He is arrested, charged with criminal contempt of court, and placed in custody.
RCMP Harassment of Supporters, September 15
On Sept 15, a rally was held at the US-Canada border crossing (Peace Arch park) in support of the defenders & denouncing the RCMP, media, & NDP government. RCMP openly conduct surveillance of rally from border crossing. As supporters leave on the Canadian side, RCMP pull over 4 vehicles and check the identity of the occupants.
Spiritual Advisor Visits Camp, September 16
On Sept 16, John Stevens, a spiritual advisor to the Sundancers, visits the camp. He advises the defenders that they have accomplished their work and could now leave.
End of Siege, September 17, 1995
On September 17, after placing their weapons in a large fire, the remaining ten defenders leave the camp and are arrested (along with two minors, Garth Christopher & Joseph Rosette).
Clark Jailed for Psychiatric Assessment, September 18
Appearing in court for a bail hearing in regards to the Sept 15 charges, the judge orders Clark to be held for a two-week psychiatric assessment. He is transported to Riverview psychiatric ward near Vancouver, but released within days after being found not mentally ill. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct 18 but flees Canada and seeks sanctuary in Amsterdam.
Wolverine’s Bail Revoked, September 29
On September 29, judge Dohm revokes Wolverine’s bail in Kamloops provincial court. He is held in custody until the end of the trial (1997), at which time he is convicted & sentenced.
RCMP Surveillance Efforts, October 1995
On Oct 5, RCMP arranged for one defendant (Suniva Bronson) to arrive at the Kamloop’s station to pick up her driver’s license which they had kept. While there, Cpl. Smith attempted to engage in discussion about the siege & even showed her surveillance footage of the Sept 11 attack (in which she was wounded & her dog killed).
It is later revealed in court that this was a trick to stimulate discussions among defendants in an effort to gather information. Other defendants are also approached by police at this time. During a July 1996 testimony, Cpl. Smith states this is a “routine thing done when you have the wires going,” to initiate discussion on tapped telephones.
After individuals are arrested & charged leaving the camp in September 1995, police also placed undercover cops in jail cells to gather information.
Sheriff’s Assault Prisoners, November 1995
During a court appearance in 100 Mile House on Nov 10, 1995, sheriff’s assault Wolverine and others, while Wolverine is addressing the court. It ends with sheriff’s drawing their sidearms.
Trial of Defenders, 1996-97
The year-long trial of the defenders began in the summer of 1996, in a special high-security courtroom in Surrey, BC (a suburb of Vancouver). Metal detectors were placed at the doors. Inside the court, a bullet-proof glass partition, from the ceiling to the floor, separated observers from the court.
18 people went to trial, with charges ranging from mischief, weapons offenses, to attempted murder (against Wolverine & his son Joseph). The trial was one of the longest & most expensive in Canadian history.
After 10 months of testimony, judge Bruce Josephson gave four days of instruction to the jury on how they were to interpret the law, what evidence to consider, etc. During the trial itself, he had disallowed any defense based on the colour of right (an honest & sincere belief in the rightness of one’s beliefs & actions).
On May 20, 1997, the jury returned with verdicts of guilty for 15 defenders. These were for a number of charges, including weapons offenses, mischief, etc. Neither Wolverine nor his son were found guilty of attempted murder. Three defenders were acquitted of all charges.
On July 30, 1997, they were sentenced. Wolverine received the harshest sentence of 8 years. James Pitawanakwat: 4 years. Edward Dick: 3 years. Suniva Bronson: 2 years. Eight others received sentences of 6 to 9 months.
By early 1999, Wolverine was released from prison. He was the last to be released, having been imprisoned since October 1995 and refused bail.
During the trial, the defenders became split between those who continue to assert a sovereigntist position, and those who abandon it. Two lawyers, Harry Rankin & Sheldon Tate, publicly attack the sovereigntists and attempt to reduce their client’s involvement by portraying them as unwitting pawns.
Although media heavily reported the siege in 1995, and especially the RCMP’s version of events, during the year-long trial there is little coverage. Many of the most damaging RCMP disclosures are given little notice in media reports.
Clark Arrested & Convicted, February 1997
After landing at Vancouver airport on Feb 18, 1997, to meet with defenders and the Ts’Peten defense committee, Bruce Clark is arrested by 4 RCMP officers. On Feb 20, 1997, he is convicted of contempt of court charges from the Sept 15/95 incident at 100 Mile House. He is sentenced to 3 months in jail. In late March 1997, he is released from jail and placed under house arrest, with an electronic monitoring anklet, to complete his sentence.
James Pitawanakwat’s Extradition Case, 2000
While released to a half-way house in Vancouver in 1999, Pitawanakwat left custody and travelled to the US. He was later arrested, and Canadian authorities sought his extradition back to Canada.
In October 2000, a court in Portland, Oregon, refused to extradite him. His laywers successfully argued that Canada’s criminalization of the siege at Ts’Peten fulfilled Article 4 (the “political offenses exception”) of the Extradition Treaty between Canada and the US. This provision was designed to protect genuine resistance “whose criminalized actions arise in the context of legitimate liberations struggles waged against unjust, oppressive regimes” (Prof. Tony Hall, University of Lethbridge, December 2000).
This same argument was used unsuccessfully by Leonard Peltier in 1976, then facing extradition to the US.
COMMUNICATIONS & COUNTER-INSURGENCY
“All warfare is based on deception.”
Sun Tzu, Art of War
RCMP Smear & Disinformation
“When you say that the smear is the specialty of the RCMP, you should know that they learned this from the FBI. The FBI used this with different groups in the US.
Wolverine (interview in Terminal City, March 21-27, 1997).
During the siege at Ts’Peten, the RCMP used outright lies, fabrications, & psychological warfare to discredit the defenders and their positions. In substance, this was little different from the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTEL-PRO) used in the 1960s & ‘70s against resistance movements in the United States.
When internal RCMP memos & videos were disclosed in the 1996-97 trials, they revealed the full extent & nature of the RCMP’s self-described “smear & disinformation” campaign.
Footage on the video tapes ranges from debriefings of officers involved in attacks, to senior meetings of RCMP commanders. In some of these meetings, senior officers discuss media strategy.
In one scene, RCMP Sgt. Dennis Ryan paraphrases Supt. Olfert in regards to the defenders lawyer, Bruce Clark, saying “… kill this Clark and smear the prick and everyone with him” (video introduced during Sgt. Ryan’s testimony, Feb 3, 1997).
In another scene, Ryan asks, to no one in particular, “Is there anyone who can help us with our smear and disinformation campaign?”
In response, Sgt. Peter Montague, the RCMP’s chief media liaison, states, “Smear campaigns are our specialty” (video, Sgt. Ryan’s testimony, Jan 6, 1997).
The RCMP also released criminal records of persons alleged to be the in the camp, some of whom were not present, in an effort to further criminalize & isolate the defenders.
One Secwepemc, Johnny Guitar, whose criminal record was released as one of the defenders, stood in the back of the room at 100 Mile House while police did this.
In another disclosure of RCMP internal logs, dated Sept. 1, 1995, Sgt. Montague outlines the intent of releasing criminal records:
“Before the force makes a physical move the public should be made aware that our actions are being precipitated by the criminal actions of proven criminals.”
In the same memo, Montague describes the media strategy for dealing with Wolverine:
“Issue Two: Wolverine and his band of thugs
“Wolverine (IGNACE) is an advocate of violence in order to advance his political agenda. By definition, he is a terrorist… He is an opportunist and has completely manipulated a mentally deficient person, Percy ROSETTE [another elder in the camp].”
Issue five dealt with the alleged August 27 ambush:
“The terrorist sympathizers have spread the rumour that the ambush was staged by the RCMP.
“STRATEGY: The RCMP should not allow this rumour to fester.
“ACTION: The RCMP should conduct a news conference showing the damaged vests plus pictures of members injuries. Members will not be identifiable. A qualified ERT person (i.e., Staff-Sgt. Hugh STEWART) should participate.”
Media’s Role in Disinformation
“Presently, the media coverage has the general public on our side. The Force [RCMP] has great support and we should strive to ensure that this continues. It can be accomplished by continuing to have a pro-active media program.”
RCMP notes, court disclosure
The primary means by which the RCMP’s disinformation campaign occurred was through the corporate media. TV, newspapers, & radio shows were used by the RCMP to shape & influence public opinion in their counter-insurgency efforts.
Not only were the media restricted from any access to the defenders, they were told only the RCMP version of events. This one-sided version was then reported as fact. Many reporters willingly collaborated with the RCMP.
Overall, the corporate media were an essential counter-insurgency tool, used by the RCMP to isolate & undermine the defenders & their ideas. At the same time, it “manufactured public consent for a Waco-style massacre” (Dacajeweiah).
In early September, the media agreed to self-censor themselves by not reporting the existence of a secret police-military base known as Camp Zulu (see “Selected media get to look at Camp Zulu,” Mark Hume, The Vancouver Sun, Sept. 18, 1995).
Complete with a field hospital, kitchen, communications center, Camp Zulu was kept quiet to minimize the military nature of the siege.
Although ERT members were heavily armed, & carried out both armed patrols & assaults on the defenders, the media, government, & RCMP themselves, continued to praise the “restraint,” “cool discipline,” and “professionalism” of the officers.
On the other hand, journalists, RCMP, & government officials portrayed the defenders as insane, violent, irrational, & aggressive. Terms such as terrorist, squatters, renegades, militants, extremists, outside agitators, etc., were constantly used to describe them.
Media & RCMP both referred to the (mostly Secwepemc) defenders as “outside agitators.” The Vancouver Sun reported they were linked to a “US-based group… called the New World Order” (Vancouver Sun, Aug. 24/95).
The same article went on to say that the defenders were “mostly from eastern Canada & the US.” Both the American Indian Movement and Mohawk Warrior Society’s were involved, according to the press.
The Sundance itself was used to portray the rebels as imposters, so disconnected from Secwepemc culture they had adopted the ceremony of another people.
The defender’s legal counsel, lawyer Bruce Clark (also the target of an RCMP smear campaign), was portrayed as eccentric, irrational, and ultimately insane, for his assertion that Canada was guilty of genocide & fraud in relations to Indigenous people.
The Sept 18, 1995, imprisonment of Clark for a 14-day psychiatric evaluation was clearly meant to reinforce this image (and to shut him up). He was released days later, but media headlines already had their effect. Clark was also used as an example of an “outside agitator” directing the defender’s actions.
The legal positions of the defenders were also brushed aside as absurd, the result of “outside influences” and conspiracy theories. The police & government refused to address the legal position of the defenders, saying it had nothing to do with land claims. They maintained it was a simple “criminal” matter in which persons had trespassed on private land.
When questioned about media & government bias, Attorney General Dosanjh replied “Where’s the other side of the story? There is only one side of the story. There is no other side” (Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege, p. 131).
Although crude in many ways, this disinformation campaign was also quite effective in the short-term, due the power of modern corporate media in shaping & influencing public perception.
After new information became available during the 1996-97 trials, along with their own work to raise public awareness, support for the defenders has slowly increased among Indigenous people over the years.
Journalist Apologizes for Abuses, 1997
In 1997, one journalist acknowledged the extent to which the media had been used by the RCMP, stating:
“The fact is camp members weren’t the terrorists RCMP made them out to be.
“Police led the media to believe they had ‘consistently been fired upon’ by camp occupants, including shots fired at an RCMP chopper. But most were never confirmed.
“Police successfully argued for the deployment of two APCs after they claimed natives shot at a moving police van, damaging the rear view mirror.
But evidence at trial revealed a tree branch was likely the cause of the damage, not a bullet.
“Police illegally released the juvenile record of several camp occupants”
(“Media should apologize for gullibility on Gustafsen Lake,” Joey Thompson, The Province, September 26, 1997).
NATIVE COLLABORATORS & COPS
Collaboration by Chiefs & Councilors
“Domestic laws, which we have had no hand in signing, do not apply here. Tribal councils of so-called “chiefs” paid by the government of Canada, do not speak for us”
(Defender’s Press Release, August 24, 1995).
During the siege, band councilors & chiefs were used to publicly denounce the defenders, to isolate them, & to undermine their positions. Their actions helped provide the pretext for violent assaults by police.
As early as February 1995, the RCMP had contacted local band councilors & chiefs for assistance. These included chief Agnes Snow of the Canoe Creek/Dog Creek band & Cariboo Tribal Council, and Antoine Archie, chief of the Canim Lake band.
On July 20, Mary Thomas of the Cariboo Tribal Council reportedly contacted the RCMP as an informant, advising police as to the intentions of the defenders and their weapons (said to be automatic weapons, .30-30s, .22s, and crossbows), (Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege, p. 104).
In late August, even as the RCMP began to increase their armed presence at Ts’Peten, local band councils continued to collaborate. In an attempt to undermine the spiritual beliefs of the defenders, Bruce Mack, band administrator for the Cariboo Tribal Council, told reporters:
To the best of our elder’s knowledge, it [Ts’Peten] is not a sacred or significant place… We’ve made it very clear. They’re not welcome and should move on” (“Standoff baffles non-militant bands,” Globe & Mail, Aug 23, 1995).
Around the same time,
“Chief Antoine Archie informs the RCMP that when everything is finished the Cariboo Tribal Council will attend the Sundance site and take down all the structures, including the sacred Sundance arbour, “ASAP” in their desire to assist the RCMP 100 Mile House detachment office” (Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege, p. 113).
According to RCMP trial disclosures, discussions were held with Sen. Len Marchand, a Native, who told Supt. Olfert the defenders “were no better or even similar to the Branch Davidians” (at Waco, Texas, 1993), during an Aug 26, 1995, phone call.
Olfert notes after the telephone call that Marchand “supports actions we may have to take and feels they may all give up with a show of force” (Olfert’s quoted in The Province, January 7, 1997).
On September 13, 1995, Antoine Archie, under the direction of the RCMP, broadcast a radio statement in English & Secwepemc, telling the defenders that if they surrendered, they wouldn’t be harmed. The defenders, who knew Archie & viewed him as a collaborator, didn’t accept the offer. The RCMP may have used this to show themselves as trying every possible effort to avoid confrontation (although on Sept 11 & 12 they had just carried out two assaults on defenders).
A “Shuswap Liason Group” was established during the siege, consisting mostly of band councilors & other collaborators from the Secwepemc, Gitxsan, & Okanagan, working directly with the RCMP. They were used to portray the “legitimate” & “responsible” leadership as mediators to peacefully resolve the dispute. They also made it appear as if an impartial third party was now involved in negotiations, and that it was comprised of ‘grassroots’ community members.
In March 1996, the Sundance arbour was torn down and burned under the direction of the Caribou Tribal Council (“Chiefs raze the Gustafsen Sundance arbour,” 100 Mile Free Press, April 10, 1996).
Native Cop Resigns, 1997
In 1997, RCMP Const. Bob Wood, one of three Aboriginal officers assigned to Ts’Peten two months prior to the siege, resigned. Wood and the other two Native cops had established a good rapport with the Sundance camp, stopping by regularly for coffee & discussions. Their approach was casual, meant to gather info on the group’s intentions, plans, and numbers.
He advised superiors to not send in ERT units, and believed the conflict could be resolved with negotiations. After the siege, he commented on senior officer’s intentions:
“Their minds were made up. They were going to set an example—whoever was in there they were going to remove them by force to set an example that “you can’t do that” “(Interview on The Rational, CFRO radio, July 16, 1997).
Wood had been an RCMP officer for six years and felt bitter that his work and advice were not respected. Prior to becoming a cop, he had worked as a corrections officer for ten years, where he was approached by the RCMP to become an officer because of his rapport with Native inmates.
Another Native RCMP officer, Const. Andrews, was an 18-year veteran of the force. He had served at 100 Mile House from 1989-95. He had known members of the Sundance camp for years, and had been on patrol during the Sundance since 1992. On August 17, 1995, Cst. Andrews was re-assigned after showing 100 Mile House ERT member Cpl. Callander the area.
On the morning of August 18, Wood & Andrews received the distress call from Percy Rosette, saying there were armed men in the woods (the RCMP ERT). Andrews & Woods began to drive out to the camp, but were pulled back by Cpl. Hicks.
Chief Condemns Collaborators
Chief Ervin Charleyboy publicly condemns the Caribou Tribal Council & others for their collaboration with the police & government (“Chief claims renegades are being betrayed,” The Province, Sept. 7, 1995).
“In camp, we talked about the new world order. This is what it’s coming down to—a police state, and we’ll be nothing but slaves if we allowed this to happen.”
Jones William (Wolverine) Ignace, Statement to the jury, 1997
RCMP Training Video
During the 1996-97 trial, over 50 hours of RCMP video footage documenting the police operation were released to the defense. These videos were made by Norm Torp, & were meant to be used for internal RCMP analysis & training. Torp had initially begun his project in the Spring of 1995 with the blockades at Adams Lake & Merritt.
The siege at Gustafsen Lake was the first time RCMP ERT units had ever been deployed in the field for an extended siege of this nature. All the ERTs were from urban or suburban districts (i.e., Victoria, Kamloops, Surrey, Courtenay, etc.).
It was also the first time the RCMP used APCs. In size & scale, this was by far the largest paramilitary operation the RCMP had ever been involved in. In particular, this was also one of the largest counter-insurgency operations the RCMP had ever conducted.
For these reasons, RCMP commanders wanted the entire operation documented for use in post-analysis, and in training officers for similar operations in the future. That such operations are in fact planned was evident in 1998, when the RCMP purchased four APCs from General Motors (GM makes several versions of APCs for the Canadian Forces & other militaries).
RCMP & Military Weapons, Equipment
Altogether, 450 RCMP officers were deployed at 100 Mile House & around Ts’Peten. Many of these were Emergency Response Teams from across the province & country, primarily urban or suburban (including Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Courtenay, & Prince George).
Around the highways & roads of 100 Mile House, RCMP set up checkpoints, where they checked vehicles & id. In some cases, they removed Indigenous people at gunpoint, and arrested one found with a rifle & ammunition (a hunter, or an insurgent?).
10 km away from Ts’Peten, Camp Zulu was established, a secret police-military base camp. It had a field hospital, kitchen, sleeping quarters, a communications center, two helicopters, APC’s, and other police vehicles.
ERT members were armed with M-16 assault rifles, MP5 9-mm machine guns, 9 mm pistols, and .308 sniper rifles. After failed sniper shots on Sept 12, the RCMP also requested .50-calibre MacMillan sniper rifles from the Canadian Forces (effective range: 1,500 meters).
As many as 77,000 rounds of ammunition were requested by the RCMP, with as many as 20,000 fired in one fire-fight (Sept 11). The majority of this was 5.56 mm (.223) for the M-16s, as well as 9 mm.
On Sept 11, RCMP detonated a “datasheet” explosive charge, which blew up the front end of a pick-up truck used by defenders.
RCMP also used flares & concussion grenades, including trip flares. Motion detectors were placed in trees. ERT units had night-vision devices, & each member also had radio communications ear-pieces & mics. Other personal equipment included bullet-proof vests & Kevlar helmets.
9 Bison APCs were deployed by the Canadian Forces as part of Operations Iron Horse & Wallaby. The Bison is made by General Motors and is a 14 ton, 8 x 8 wheeled armoured personnel carrier. It has a crew of 2 (driver & commander) with room for 8 soldiers/police. The crews were Canadian Forces personnel.
From at least mid-August, the RCMP had 24-hour WESCAM high-altitude aerial surveillance of the area. The planes flew at altitudes of six to eight thousand feet. Wescam cameras can also be attached to helicopters. The RCMP also had at least two helicopters at its disposal (Bell Jet Ranger), equipped with FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) that can detect body heat (as well as freshly dug trenches).
The RCMP were advised & assisted by Mike Webster, an FBI & RCMP psychological warfare expert, present at the massacres in Waco & Peru.
An observer from the Ontario Provincial Police, and two FBI agents, also present as observers, attended the standoff.
Members of Joint Task Force 2 were also present during the siege. According to one account, they were carrying out patrols & reconnaissance. By Sept 13, RCMP commanders were formally requesting that JTF2 take over.
Plans for full military take over of the operation envisioned some 4,000 soldiers to secure the area and assault the camp (see Holly Horwood, “Police wanted 4,000 troops at Gustafsen Lake,” The Province, January 8, 1997).
Examples of RCMP Military Mind-Set
The CO [Commanding Officer, Supt. 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” (RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brown’s personal notes, Aug 10, 1995, court evidence).
“Anyone got a gun? It’s for a peaceful resolution” (Supt. Len Olfert on RCMP video training tapes, court evidence).
“If there are natives on the ground and one has a gun, I will empty two clips on full automatic in four seconds” (unidentified RCMP officer on RCMP video tapes, court evidence).
ERT recon patrols into the camp area would leave ‘death cards’ signed with names like ‘wild weasel’ and reading: “Vancouver ERT: Wish you were here.”
ERT members envisaged “forcing defiant natives at Gustafsen Lake to surrender on their knees to white police officers” (The Province, Jan 23, 1997).
In the RCMP training video, Sgt. Montague is debriefing an officer involved in a police assault against defenders, expressing his wish that “we could have some dead fucking terrorists.” Moments later, he regretfully concluded “Not that lucky.”
“We have some natives that are just strictly trying to kill us, and they’re not afraid to kill us, and it’s quite apparent they’re not afraid to die… how do you fight that? You kill them” (RCMP Const. Ray Wilby, The National, CBC News, Sept. 18, 1995).
Psychological Warfare Specialist
Present at the siege was Dr. Michael Webster, a psychiatrist & instructor with both the FBI & RCMP. He has been a teacher at the BC Police Academy, the Canadian Police College, & the FBI academy at Quantico, Virginia.
Webster was also an advisor at the 1993 Waco, Texas, siege (in which over 80 men, women & children were killed by the FBI). In 1997, he was involved with the massacre of Tupac Amaru guerrillas in Peru, who had taken diplomats & officials hostage at the Japanese embassy.
Along with providing advice & strategy to the RCMP, Webster also conducted extensive media interviews, helping to portray the RCMP operation as one based on negotiations rather than force.
Following the siege, Webster stated:
“The greatest thing I will take away from 100 Mile House with me is the incredible knowledge I have about native spirituality & how effective that can be” (“… Restraint approach praised,” The Vancouver Sun, Sept. 18, 1995).
Soldier Loses Hand Setting Bomb
During the standoff, Canadian Forces Sgt. Mike Schlueter lost a hand when a pyrotechnic device (a concussion grenade) he was putting in place accidentally went off. Later, he sued the federal government for $3 million. The soldiers had begun using fishing line as trip wires, spanning 50-75 meters between trees. Fish line is stretchy, however, and this is believed to have caused the stun grenade to go off.
RCMP Gets Own APCs, 1998
In 1997, the RCMP announced its intentions to purchase 8 APCs, so it would never again have to “bicker” with the military for deployment of armoured vehicles.
In 1998, it was announced that four APCs had in fact been purchased from General Motors diesel plant in London, Ont. Two were models in use with the Canadian Forces, and two were Nyala RE-31 of S. African design.
Despite over twelve years, there has been no public inquiry into the RCMP-military operation at Gustafsen Lake. While in power, the provincial NDP consistently refused to hold an inquiry, or even discuss the matter. Attorney-General Dosanjh, one-time premier Glen Clark, and others, continued to claim it was a criminal matter that had been dealt with by a provincial court.
Svend Robinson, a federal NDP’er often portrayed as a human rights advocate, has also consistently refused to discuss the matter.
Over the years, protesters have continued to publicly embarrass NDP officials by bringing up their role during the Gustafsen Lake crisis.
In March, 1999, Ujjal Dosanjh was pied in the face after speaking to a Simon Fraser University criminology class. One protester shouted, “That’s for Gustafsen Lake.”
In March 2004, Ts’peten veterans, including Wolverine, along with Secwepemc & Vancouver NYM, disrupted an NDP fundraiser in Vancouver. Noam Chomsky was the featured speaker, and was to present Svend Robinson with a human rights award. By April 2004, Robinson had a mental breakdown after shoplifting jewelry & resigned in disgrace!
To this day, the RCMP continue to claim the operation was a huge success, one that ended peacefully thanks to the “professionalism, discipline, and restraint” of its members.
Flora Sampson (Grandmother, wife to Wolverine)
“When I was up there I had no fear in me. The fear was taken right out of me. I felt at peace. Although there was airplanes and helicopters flying around all day, I got used to the noise. Once in awhile a land-mine would go off or flares. At night I liked to listen to the coyotes & the wolves & the owls would start howling out there. The army, or police, or whoever were out there, they were really afraid of them so they’d start letting off flares.
“It was reality. Reality for me. You know, when we’re at home here we take advantage of a lot of things. We take advantage of water. We take advantage of our food. We take advantage of one another. Sometimes when we’re at home we forget about praying. But up there, we couldn’t forget…
“I admire the courage of everyone that was up there. I was willing to die for my people. That’s how much I love my people. My future generations and the land are what Mother Earth gave us to take care of” (September 28, 1995 Interview).
Mindy Dick (15 Years Old in 1995)
“My name is Mindy Dick, and I was there because my grandpa was up there, my whole family was up there, and I was helping my grandpa protect the land and the ancestors remains…
“I had a little bit of fear in me because when the army was moving in closer we had to stay up some nights because they could move in at any time.
“I didn’t want to leave the camp because all my people were up there.
“We had to cook for the men to keep their strength up. They had to smudge before they went out and we had to smudge ourselves too, and we had to pray that they wouldn’t get hurt or anything when they were out there’ (September 28, 1995 Interview).
“We’ve got to educate. We’ve got to talk with one another and get a strong analysis of what our struggle is. We have to learn what the Indigenous struggle to maintain our land and way of life is. We have to assess the means by which to do this. We have to build ourselves into a body that is ready to mobilize under some kind of common bond by which we can unite and say this is what we as traditional people defend” (Co-op Radio interview, Hastings Reserve, August 19, 1996).
The following resources may be difficult to locate. Some are available through a distributor: www.akpresss.org.
Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege
By Janice Switlo. Pub. by TIAC Communications Ltd., 1997
One of the few books written on the Ts’Peten standoff. A lawyer, Switlo devotes large sections of the book to legal & political issues related to the standoff. Published while the trials were still underway and as new information was being revealed.
The Autobiography of Splitting the Sky: Attica to Gustafsen Lake
By Dacajeweiah. Self-published. A massive book, only the first 80 pages or so are Doc’s autobiography. Most of this book contains documents, reports, notes, media articles, etc. from the Gustafsen Lake standoff and the 1996-97 trials.
Above the Law: deception at Gustafsen Lake (1997)
Above the Law 2: a critical look at Gustafsen Lake (2000)
Produced & directed by Mervyn Brown. Two part documentary film on Gustafsen Lake/Ts’Peten. Contains some of the internal RCMP training video footage, as well as Wescam surveillance footage of the Sept 11 ambush & Sept 12 sniper attack. Interviews with defenders, analysts, etc. Available through AK Press, $15 each.
The Gustafsen Lake Crisis; statements from Ts’Peten Defenders
Pub. by Abraham Guillen Press/Arm the Spirit. 50 pg. Booklet, with interviews, statements, articles. Available through AK Press, $4 each.
Defenders of the Land (1995)
A video made during the summer of 1995 with footage compiled prior to the armed intervention of the RCMP. Mostly interviews with defenders (Wolverine, Percy Rosette, Docajewa, Pitawanakwat, & others).
Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty website
This website has large archives on the Gustafsen Lake standoff & trials.
Canada’s Secret Commandos; the Unauthorized Story of the Joint Task Force 2
By David Pugliese, Espirit de Corps Books, Ottawa 2002.
One of the only books on JTF2, the Canadian Forces elite anti-terrorist commando unit. Members were reportedly present at Ts’Peten, and RCMP had requested they take over the operation after the Sept 11 fiasco.
Posted on February 12, 2011, in Defending Territory, Documents, State Security Forces and tagged 100 mile house standoff, Gustafsen Lake, Gustafsen Lake Seige, Indigenous resistance, RCMP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Secwepemc, ts'Peten. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.