NEWS RELEASE · 15th May 2012
Gitxsan Unity Movement
Note - to protect individuals we aren't naming or quoting sources in this update. It was made obvious in court today that all our updates, facebook posts, and even cell texts are being collected as evidence. That just encourages us, but we don't want to implicate people who may not want to be.
In court today the GTS (Gitxsan Treaty Society) lawyer pressed hard for the arrest of four Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs who have been spokespeople for the Gitxsan Unity Movement. Observers reported that the judge was initially very angry that the blockade was still up, and demanded that the Chiefs be brought into court immediately. He refused to listen to arguments from lawyers for the Chiefs or the RCMP, and called on the RCMP to bring the Chiefs in to court. The chiefs met in downtown Old Hazelton at the fire with their blankets and prepared to be arrested. A phone call went out to all supporters, and within half an hour over 200 people showed up to support the chiefs. It is estimated that over 400 people came down within the hours after the phone call!
An observer reported that the GTS lawyer presented a number of statements to the judge that were either not true or out of context. A lawyer for one of the chiefs tried to reason with the Judge but was initially not successful. Counsel implored the Judge to consider the mediation efforts currently underway, but the Judge repeatedly dismissed their arguments. Observers praised the RCMP and their lawyers for their defense of the people and their refusal to create more conflict by enforcing the injunction against the blockade.
The arguments of the non-GTS lawyers infuriated the Judge, who seemed to believe that the Unity Movement along with all the Gitxsan who were against the GTS represented a very small portion of the population. A number of witnesses in court reported that the RCMP lawyer stated to the judge that there were over 175 people at the Chiefs building today on very short notice, and the Judge responded by saying "this isn't Oka", which was countered by the RCMP lawyer responded that "it could be". It's also reported that the Judge suggested to the RCMP lawyer that Gitxsan supporters at the blockade were cowardly and would just scatter and run away if the RCMP moved in to arrest.
It is obvious from statements in court that the large outpouring of support on the ground has had a very real impact on this struggle. The RCMP had members in from out of town on the ground as well as a special team waiting nearby. It appeared the headcounts done by RCMP members on the ground, which were reported back to court, definitely had an impact on the outcome today.
Witnesses reported the Judge, frustrated with the RCMP's refusal to arrest the Chiefs and enforce the injunction, is now considering ordering the Court Sheriffs to carry out the arrests. We've been told that this decision will happen in about a week. The representative for the Sheriffs has committed to being in touch with the Gitxsan to make sure things go smoothly should this happen.
This struggle is far from over. The Gitxsan Hereditary Cheifs and the Gitxsan people have made it clear that they do not want their Chiefs arrested. The Unity Movement and the Chiefs want a Gitxsan solution to the crisis. We have our own laws.
It is sad that the GTS continues to push their case in the BC Supreme Court and spend great amounts of money fighting their own Chiefs. A strong foundation for moving forward in a positive fashion has been created and put forward by the Chiefs in The Mothers Day Accord, which includes these main points:
1) That the injunction and lawsuits against the unity chiefs be dropped
2) That the blockade of the Chief's Office be lifted
3) That a impartial 3rd party secure contents of the building
4) That the Chiefs continue to meet until differences are worked out
There is a clear path here for resolution of the crisis, and it is a Gitxsan solution. We will continue to work for accountability, transparency, and for the return of authority to the Gitxsan Chiefs and the Gitxsan people.