NOTICE: If you are on, or personally acquainted with anybody on the Jury of the Gustafson lake trial, please read no further, This article contains much conjecture based upon documents which may or may not be placed before the jury.
They called him "Wolverine", and the RCMP and the Attorney General of BC tried to demonize him as a renegade leader of a terrorist native group. Others knew him as "Jonsie" -- a 65 year old organic farmer with strong spiritual bonds which took him, fourteen years ago, from a rather turbulent life. There is also a third "Wolverine": The mutant member of the 'X-men' comic book team with a metal alloy skeleton and lightning reflexes. This story is about how the RCMP claim that the former came surprisingly close to the latter. It's the story of how, according to the RCMP's claims, a 65 year old organic farmer defused a combined RCMP/armed forces assault by disabling an armed forces Armored Personal carrier with little more than a light assault rifle and his nerves, then holding three more APCs at bay for almost an hour and a half -- all because the RCMP tried to kill a young couple.
The defenders have been unable to speak openly for legal reasons. For that reason, this story does not give the defenders' view of the event, which may be quite different. It simply speaks from the RCMP documentation. If you accept the RCMP view without the defenders' response, this appears to be what happened.
Quotes are taken from transcripts of either radio conversations during the standoff, or open court testimony.
The story starts at Gustafson Lake in the BC interior where the RCMP ignored questions about rancher Lyle James' ownership of a plot of land he claimed was 'lot 114 lilloet' and attempted to intimidate a group of natives into leaving what they considered to be unceded, sacred native land, unencumbered by private title. To the natives, it was known as 'the sundance grounds', and verbal histories indicated that lot 114 was not were Lyle James clamed it was.
By early September, 1995, the RCMP had cordoned off the disputed land and isolated the
natives and their supporters. Those who knew the defenders' story, felt that the RCMP
were bowing to financial and political pressure and ignoring both law and fact --
becoming, in effect, party to the land fraud which they saw as being perpetuated by Lyle
James Cattle Company. The only solutions that the natives would accept would be proof
that Lyle James really did own the sundance lands, a surrender on the part of the RCMP,
or a submission of their complaint to a 'fair and impartial tribunal' -- their suggestion
being a special constitutional court convenable by the Queen's privy council in England.
The Canadian government, on the other hand, was manifestly uninterested in having some
of these issues of native rights being determined by anybody the government couldn't
control. It was a stalemate with high stakes.
On September 11, the RCMP decided to break the stalemate with the help of a squad of Armored Personnel Carriers borrowed (with their drivers) from the army. Their operation was to consist of two parts -- a diversionary attack was to draw off the attention (and limited firepower) of the camp residents. Other units were assigned to attack the camp proper. The main assault team including at least one team of 20 RCMP officers (including two dog units) squeezed into an APC which had a normal combat load of eight. But as one military watcher put it, "Once the bullets start flying, all plans go out the window".
Camp: "Do we have a cease fire in effect at this time?"At about 2:00pm, two camp members were waiting for the RCMP's "dream team" of native elders assigned to negotiate the camp members' surrender. While waiting, they headed towards the lake to pick up water. This was a normal, daily, event. As the truck drove down the road, an RCMP explosive charge "larger than we'd ever used before", was detonated. The result was the first departure from the plan: The mine was detonated prematurely. Instead of killing, injuring or stunning the occupants, the explosion threw the vehicle into the air, and destroyed the engine. Under the cover of the large cloud of dust and smoke thrown up by the charge, the two people escaped into the woods and made a beeline for the camp while an RCMP officer shot and killed their dog-- the only living creature which could be seen in the smoke. Moments later, one of the borrowed APCs (designated "Blackhorse Red") rammed the truck head on (rather than sideswiping it, as planned) before two members crawled out of the APC to find the truck empty, except for the two rifles which the occupants had left behind. To the RCMP, this meant that the two were unarmed. The attack did, however, achieve it's primary goal of gaining the attention of the camp. A blue truck came out of the camp and started checking various RCMP surveillance positions. Blackhorse red went to intercept it and the blue truck drove off as soon as they saw the APC.
RCMP: "Okay, um, can I get back to you at about 2:30?"
APC Red was then sent to pick up the two red truck occupants who, by this time, were seen swimming across the lake towards the camp. Stopping near the shores of the lake, two RCMP officers popped out of the top hatches of the APC, told the two unarmed swimmers to surrender and then fired shots towards them. "Warning shots", according to one of the officers, even though a bullet ended up lodged in the upraised arm of one of the two 'targets'.
It was at this point that the RCMP plans really started to unravel. Somebody (presumably wolverine) saw the two officers shooting at his friends and decided to do something to stop an apparent cold-blooded murder attempt. Unwilling to kill the officers, warning shots were fired into the jerry cans on the sides of the APC, just below the two officers. One officer noticed the bullets and withdrew into the APC. Corporal Preston, however, was enthralled with bloodlust and needed to be literally pulled back into the APC by his legs.
Once the two officers were safely inside the APC, a final warning shot was placed right where Corporal Preston's head had been. With the hatches closed and the APC now safely unable to fire, Wolverine then stood up and waited for the APC to turn around.
"It's Wolverine", said the driver to the inhabitants of the APC.
"Eliminate him", responded Corporal Preston of the RCMP.
The driver took this as an order to kill Wolverine and, with nobody willing to risk return fire from the top of the APC, he used the only weapon he had at his disposal ... If people can describe a speeding car as a killing machine, the moniker would apply doubly to the APC with its eight wheels and tons of armor as it knocked over trees in the race to run over an indian.
As luck would have it, though, when going through the bush, an APC is not quite as versatile as a 65 year old organic farmer and hunter. As one occupant described it, "It seemed like he was playing with us ... He would run 20 degrees to our right and, as we turned to follow him, he would fire 3 shots into the wheel well. Then he would run 20 degrees to our left and repeat the process." Playing this deadly game of "tag". Wolverine led the APC away from his friends, and ultimately fired one of his 30 bullets through what one army buff described as "a hole twice as wide as the bullet", and pierced a hydraulic line on the killing machine. With its steering gone, the APC knocked over a 2-foot thick tree and ended up stuck on it.
At this point, other APCs were standing by further north, near the camp. These APCs included Blackhorse Blue which held a team of 20 RCMP and 2 dogs (more than double the normal combat load of 8). The heavily manned APCs were assigned to seize and hold the camp while the more armed members of the rebel band were occupied with Blackhorse Red and the attack on the red truck's occupants. Those units were ordered to stay put while the situation with the disabled APC was determined. Wolverine's success at disabling the 'diversionary' APC and his subsequent actions would cause the plan to be canceled. As it turned out, most of the 'attack APCs' would be required to extract the one disabled unit.
Wolverine then went on to the next stage of his plan. From a good distance off the machine was peppered with gunfire -- enough to keep their heads down, but not enough to deplete a limited ammo supply. He also paused for a while to inform other camp members about what was going on and the 'ping-ping-ping' of an AK47's relatively light rounds were soon augmented by the occasional 'thunk' of a .303 hunting rifle.
(If you're wondering where the AK-47 came from, it was brougt into camp by an RCMP informant).
"Blackhorse Red, are you still under fire?"With Red's commander afraid of a rocket attack, a second APC (Blackhorse Green) was finally dispatched to rescue the occupants of Blackhorse Red. The plan was for the two APCs to sit back to back and lower their combat ramps so that Blackhorse Red could evacuate into Green. Wolverine had other plans. As the ramps were lowered, the APCs came under "very effective fire", and the officers soon abandoned their evacuation. A second, more resource intensive, plan was devised -- tow the disabled unit out.
"No, Zulu, not at this present moment."
"Correction, Zulu, we are still under heavy fire"
Blackhorse Green moved in front of the disabled Red, and two other units (Yellow and Blue) sat on either side of the train in a diamond-shaped configuration. This gave decent cover to three officers from Green who pulled a heavy metal tow bar from on top of the APC and, under direction from the two armed forces drivers (who were under strict orders from their commanders not to do anything other than drive), attached the ‘A frame’ to the disabled unit. In the meantime, members from the four APCs released smoke bombs, stun grenades and hundreds of rounds of ‘suppression fire’ into the woods, towards the camp ¾ and possibly even at each other ¾ to limit rebel fire. As guns jammed and ammo ran low, the RCMP borrowed military machine guns and thousands more rounds of ammo from inside the APCs. Once the ‘A frame’ was attached, the four units formed a convoy and drove a few yards before it was discovered that the tow bar was attached upside down. The diamond configuration was repeated, the tow bar was turned over and the convoy left the area.
As evening came, the camp residents went out to meet the group of elders who had been used as bait for the red truck (minus one elder who had a heart attack when he heard the sounds of the ambush), and the RCMP dragged home the sole prize from their meticulously planned ambush ¾ a damaged APC, and perhaps grudging respect for the people they had tried to kill.
On September 18, 1995, the camp members held a religious ceremony, declared their task complete and left the sundance grounds peacefully.
The trial of Wolverine and 17 other 'Gustafson lake Defenders' continues in courtroom 7
of the Surrey Courthouse (A suburb of Vancouver) 10:00am - 4:00pm
Stephen Samuel can be E-mailed at email@example.com For the defenders view, contact Free Media (604)251-1409 or fax at 251-6401.
on the web, try: http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/SISmain.html
For the Government's version of this event, contact Sgt. Montague of the RCMP media liason department, or the then BC Attorney General (Ujal Dosanj).
Next episode: Attack of the Tree People
Originally written: 08/26/96 10:48 PM 5 V2.0