Burns Lake police raid: ‘I thought they were going to shoot me’
It was in the midst of a police raid Sunday at the Burns Lake band office, after Tibbetts and his son were allowed to re-enter the premises to retrieve some of their personal belongings, including his son’s Xbox game console, when he said he saw RCMP officers with their guns drawn.
“When I came out of the little room, I looked down the hallway and there were 20 to 30 more cops, some hiding behind the doors, a few of them had drawn guns,” said Tibbetts, 57. “I told my 12 year-old son, ‘look, they have drawn guns,’ and he started to lift his drawn gun toward me and I thought he was going to shoot me…It was pretty scary.”
Burns Lake, which sits about 228 km west of Prince George, BC, and has an on-reserve population of about 35 people, has been in turmoil for weeks after a major rift developed within the three person band council. The rift came to a head on March 25 when the band office was occupied.
Tibbetts and his supporters say the occupation was broken by an overwhelming police presence.
Tibbetts claims that up to 50 officers were involved in the raid. He said the RCMP officers sealed off the building with police tape and also had it surrounded with about two dozen police cars.
“They didn’t need riot police there,” said Tibbetts. “They had a video camera taping everything in case we retaliated.”
The RCMP, however, had obtained intelligence before the raid that led them to believe there was a possibility the protest would escalate once they tried to end the occupation, according to a police spokesperson.
“We understood the protest could grow very quickly and we were prepared for any change,” said Const. Leslie Smith.
Smith said the intelligence was based on “conversations that were heard throughout the community.”
Smith wouldn’t say how many officers were involved in the operation, but many came from neighbouring detachments.
Smith, however, said she couldn’t directly comment on the allegation that officers had drawn their weapons inside the band office and suggested Tibbetts could file a formal complaint with the local Burns Lake RCMP detachment if he felt the officers did something wrong.
“For officer safety and public safety we were adequately numbered and had our appropriate equipment, which is issued to the members,” said Smith. “They were ready for any possible scenario.”
Tibbetts said his son was playing an Xbox game with fellow supporter Eugene Brown when the police showed up at about 9 a.m. Another supporter was also inside the building along with his children aged 6 and 7.
“We were sitting around and having a cup of coffee,” said Tibbetts. “When Chief (Albert Gerow) and Coun. Dan George came in with approximately 10 police officers.”
Smith said the occupants left after they were told they would face charges of assault by trespassing if they stayed.
The band never obtained a court injunction against the occupiers.
Tibbetts said he left because he didn’t want his son to get hurt.
Chief Gerow said the band was forced to call in the police for the safety of the children who attend a daycare in the same building. Gerow said the protesters barricaded one of the exits shut, creating a hazard for the children attending the daycare.
Gerow said the protest has been triggered by a rift between himself and George on one side and Coun. Ron Charlie.
Charlie has accused Gerow and George of lacking transparency around the band’s finances.
Gerow, who is married to former BC NDP Leader Carole James, said Charlie has been negligent in his duties as a band councillor. Gerow says the opposition to his administration was sparked by an appeal against Charlie’s election as a band councillor.
Charlie says the appeal is based a false allegation and that he’s being set up.
He ended up tied in votes with former councillor Wesley Sam after the Oct. 22 election. The electoral officer then put both of their names in a box and drew Charlie’s name.
Gerow said most of the opposition he’s facing comes from the two families who live on-reserve. Gerow says he and George have the support of the majority of off-reserve members.
Burns Lake has about 130 band members, he said.
Posted on April 9, 2013, in Indian Act Indians, State Security Forces and tagged band councils, Burns Lake band office blockade, Burns Lake Indian Band, indian act band councils, native blockades, native protests, RCMP, RCMP and Natives. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.