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The Globe and Mail

Police take new look at Bell of Batoche case

The Ontario Provincial Police have kick-started an investigation into the theft of the Bell of Batoche -- a controversial Canadian artifact -- after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed new details about the 14-year-old cold case.

Constable Brad Filman, the Peterborough County OPP spokesman, said yesterday that officers are pulling together existing information about the case that has been stalled since 2000.

They also plan to contact RCMP officers in Manitoba to "let them know we are working on it and we would be more than happy to work with them to bring this to a conclusion," he added.

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On Saturday, The Globe published a story about Gary Floyd Guiboche, a Manitoba man who said that in 1991 he helped take the bell from a Royal Canadian Legion hall in Millbrook, Ont, near Peterborough.

(It had originally been plundered from a church by Ontario soldiers during the North-West Rebellion in 1885.)

Until then, police had few leads and no suspects in the breaking and entering case.

Over the years, there have been promises of no criminal charges in exchange for the bell, and even a cash reward offered, but attempts by the governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, police and Métis leaders to recover it have failed.

Mr. Guiboche, who is serving a life sentence with no parole for 10 years at a Manitoba prison for killing his common-law wife, said that he another man wanted to reclaim the bell in honour of Louis Riel. Their idea was to display it somewhere more befitting a Métis icon.

The 40-kilogram, silver-plated bell, about 30 cm tall, originally hung in a small white-clapboard mission church at Batoche, a small Métis settlement northeast of Saskatoon.

However, in 1885, three Canadian soldiers from Millbrook smuggled it home in a blanket as a trophy of war after a Métis revolt led by Riel was crushed there.

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Mr. Guiboche told The Globe that he knows where he last saw the bell, but he's not sure where it is now. Over the years, it was moved among hiding places and once even buried under an above-ground swimming pool.

Why the bell has remained missing all this time is still unclear.

Some say police have not treated the case seriously. Others say Métis officials have not done their part to turn up the heat n the culprits long thought to be in their midst.

Mr. Guiboche says his partner in crime, whom he won't identify, has kept the bell hidden too long for no reason. It should surface, he says, and together they should be treated as heroes, not thieves.

Manitoba RCMP spokesman Sergeant Steve Colwell said once officers are contacted by the OPP, they would do what they can, such as interviewing Mr. Guiboche, to help solve the mystery.

Whether criminal charges would be laid in the 1991 theft at the Millbrook legion is still unknown. War medals belonging to one of the soldiers who originally plundered the bell were also taken. Last week, Peterborough County OPP Inspector Ed Robertson said officers would look at "circumstances as they were presented to us should they arise."

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The power to grant immunity to those involved may lie with the federal justice minister, he added. Justice officials in Manitoba and Ontario say they would look at any new evidence presented to them.

Even if the bell eventually reappears, there are some who already question whether it was the one snatched from Batoche in 1885.

Robert Winslow, who is related to a man who led the battalion of Millbrook soldiers in the North-West Rebellion, has researched the topic and suspects the bell is from another church that was pillaged during the skirmish.

"Even if it's not the right bell, I can understand why the Métis want it to be from Batoche considering what happened there," he said.

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