The Heart of the Matter: Gustafson Lake Revisited

By Douglas Whitlow

There are many theories as to why and how the Gustafson Lake Standoff began, just as there are many reasons why the incident was concluded. However; there is one very important and yet so far undisclosed reason why the standoff occurred and that one reason will be made clear as this series of articles proceeds.

The Gustafson Lake Standoff was one of the largest and most expensive of its kind costing more than $20,000,000. up to that point in Canada and the most violent with over 75,000 rounds of ammunition being fired in anger on Canadian soil by the RCMP and Army at the 23 people in the native camp.

The trial of the Gustafson Lake Defendants (Tse’ Peten Defenders) was also the most expensive and largest in Canada with an additional $20,000,000 spent on courtroom security, witness travel expenses, prosecution witness housing, jury duty, defendants living allowances, legal fees for defence lawyers, and remodelling of Courtroom # 7 at the Surrey Pre-trial Centre.

This remodel included fitting the courtroom with a bullet proof wall between the gallery and the court chamber and witness stand along with metal detectors and listening devices in the washrooms.

The 1995 Gustafson Lake Standoff was comprised of two sets of combatants from two segments of society squaring off with each other in the jungles of south central British Columbia in the summer of 1995. The combatants were: the Tse’peten Defenders, an assorted group of 23 aboriginal men, unarmed women and children with their non-aboriginal supporters (white people) Sun dancing on the shores of Gustafson Lake in central British Columbia.

The second group was composed of approximately one hundred Emergency Response Teams (ERTS) of 3 or 4 persons from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police assisted by 300-400 members of the Canadian Armed Forces backed up by a large number of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC’s), several helicopters and a couple of light planes under the command of the RCMP and at least one Agent of the U S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The Canadian Federal Forces (RCMP, ARMY) were divided into two groups and two commanders; the first was a base camp set up in a warehouse at 100 mile House commanded by a high ranking RCMP officer; while the second group consisting of the (RCMP ERT Teams and the Army Ground Forces) were under the command of the FBI Agent who had been at WACO Texas against the Branch Davidians and also at Ruby Ridge in Montana against Randy Weaver.

In addition to the above noted players, there were also several hand-picked national and local reporters and their entourage of assistants and equipment located several miles from the centre of the action. It was at this site where they assembled every day to receive their daily briefings from the RCMP Media Relations Officer who controlled every word, phrase and photo released to the general public.

Later in the 1996 -1997 during the trial of the (Tse’ Peten Defenders) the mainstream media had received a “directive” from the RCMP not to print or release anything which was derogatory to the Canadian government or to the RCMP.  As a result of this “directive”, whenever anything of a sensitive nature was going to be said by a witness; the assembled mainstream media would simply rise and leave the courtroom “enmasse” to avoid hearing something derogatory involving one or more government agencies. What they didn’t hear; they couldn’t print.

However, as an Other Press media member, I was not under the control of the RCMP directive and therefore remained in place as controlled media members exited the courtroom. In addition I spent many hours in the campground with the defendants where they lived while on trial. As a result of this, I listened to and recorded many personal stories of why certain of the defendants were at the lake and what they experienced during the standoff.

The series of articles in the coming weeks will be “reprints” of the originals which had appeared in the “Other Press”, published by Douglas College in New Westminster BC. The original articles were vetted for truth and accuracy by Tronde Halle (a journalist and defendant arrested at the conclusion of the Gustafson Lake Incident) and by then Editor of the “Other Press”; Arthur Hanks. The three of us did our level best to print each article verbatim to reflect the language and meaning of the witnesses and events being described.

This story will also include several subjects which could not have been brought forth in the immediate aftermath of the trial due to their sensitive nature which would have resulted in a few individuals being unnecessarily put in the spotlight and answering questions and allegations which were not pertinent to the standoff or the trial. As one individual put it, “someday you can tell the story, but I can never tell it”; it looks like that time has arrived.

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1 Comment

  1. I worked at La Quena Collective Coffeehouse in1996/1997, when CBC came to "cover" the court case. We were hosting an event at which the Tse’ Peten Defenders were presenting the side of the story that had been withheld. I asked the CBC reporters how they could claim to have "covered the story" as it was happening in the summer of 1995 if they only reported what they were told to report. They said, "Well, we were not allowed beyond a certain point. We could only say what the RCMP told us was going on back beyond." I told them that like the three monkeys who see, hear, and speak no evil, they were willfully complicit in the lie if they state only what they are told. "No news" is more truthful than being a willing pawn and claiming to being unable to tell any other truth because of being prevented from seeing or hearing it.

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