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Graham supporters rally behind ‘political prisoner’

Yukon News
Monday, January 19, 2004

By Juliann Fraser, News Reporter

John Graham’s release from jail marked the first day of another uphill battle for him and his legal team.

Though they are sure to be accompanied by a throng of supporters every step of the way.

Thursday, the John Graham Defence Committee delivered $25,500 collected from around the world enabling Graham to make bail the following day.

He walked out of the Vancouver jail where he has spent the last six weeks charged in connection with the murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in 1975, and into the arms of his daughter, Chusia, who has been his main supporter in Vancouver.

Arriving at his bail hearing, Graham was greeted by a packed courtroom that rose to its feet in his honour.

Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm, of the BC Supreme Court, granted bail after resolving a critical objection by the Crown.

Graham remains under house arrest in Vancouver, supervised by friends.

He was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 on US indictment. His lawyer, Terry Laliberte, said he’s confident Canada’s legal system would not fail his client.

“The charges may be politically motivated in the United States, but we’re dealing with a different criteria here in Canada,” said Laliberte from Vancouver. He disagreed with those calling Graham a “political prisoner.”

“He’s not being held in Canada as a political prisoner,” he said. “Rather, it’s part of our extradition treaty with another country and we’re simply showing a respect pursuant to that agreement,”

Arlo Looking Cloud is being held in the US for Pictou-Aquash’s murder and will face trial next month. He is expected to testify Graham was the triggerman.

“It’s all hearsay, innuendo, opinion evidence. We haven’t seen one bit of solid evidence yet,” said Laliberte.

“It’s all speculation at this point. There’s not one bit of evidence against Mr. Graham.”

Pictou-Aquash’s body was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota at a time when she and Graham were involved with the American Indian Movement.

Both Canadians headed south to join an exploding grassroots confrontation against the US government over native rights.

Pictou-Aquash was a member of the Mi’kmaq First Nation of Nova Scotia.

Graham belongs to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation of Haines Junction.
His arrest, as well as Pictou-Aquash’s death, both stem from an era of US anti-Indian policies administered mainly on reserves by members of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Sixty natives from Pine Ridge were killed in the years leading up to a bloody shootout on the reserve between AIM members and the FBI.

Graham is just one in “ongoing hit-list of victims falling prey to this native policy,” said Matthew Lien, a long-time friend and chair of the local defence committee.

Lien flew to Vancouver last week for Graham’s bail hearing.

“He was completely blown away” by the number of supporters, he said on Sunday.

Everyone ceremoniously followed suit when Chusia stood up in the courtroom. Many were holding eagle feathers, he said.

“A smile just beamed across (Graham’s) face.”

The hearing was “very civilized,” added Laliberte.

“Everyone in the courtroom has been acting very responsibly,” he said. “He has had no end of support in the community. He is very concerned at this point that it’s all done responsibly.”

The only member of the gallery said to be supporting Pictou-Aquash’s Nova Scotia relatives is apparently a family friend attending law school in BC. He said nothing during the hearing, said Lien.

The only “tense moment” came when Crown prosecutors objected to the origins of the bail money.

“The Crown wanted to see a greater investment from the five individuals responsible for John,” said Lien.

It was satisfied with the judge’s solution requiring five supervising individuals, previously approved by the court, to be liable for $10,000 if Graham’s fails to appear at an upcoming hearing.

One of those responsible for Graham while on he is out on bail is Bob Newbrook, the now-retired RCMP officer who arrested Leonard Peltier for the murders of two FBI agents killed during the Pine Ridge shootout.

Peltier, also a Canadian, is now serving two life sentences.

Newbrook believes Peltier’s extradition to the US was obtained through false evidence and is among the ranks of activists fighting to free him.

He recently took up Graham’s cause through Amnesty International. “As soon as he heard about the John Graham case he knew it was another Peltier,” said Lien.

Newbrook accompanied Lien when he fetched Graham from jail on Friday afternoon.

“Here’s the guy who’s been agonizing, for years, his role in putting Peltier behind bars… It was a rather poetic circumstance.”

Under the conditions of his bail, Graham must report in person to police every day.

He can only leave his approved residence to meet with his attorney, to attend court, or for a medical emergency.

And one of the five supervising individuals must accompany him on these occasions.

Jennifer Wade, the founder and president of the BC chapter of Amnesty International, is among those supporters approved by the court to supervise Graham.

Graham’s bail conditions will be revisited within weeks and relaxed if he fully complies.

His legal team is now compiling 30 years worth of evidence for his extradition. The date for the hearing will be set March 1.

In Whitehorse, the John Graham Defence Committee will continue to fundraise for his legal expenses.

Its first event is planned for Saturday, 6:00 PM at the Kwanlin Dun potlatch house, and will include food and entertainment.

“We want to make a specific appeal to the non-native community,” said Lien. “This is an open-arms event that extends to the entire community.”

© Copyright 2004
Yukon News