Boushie verdict: No justice without Indigenous people in the system, says lawyer
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, February 12, 2018 10:33AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 12, 2018 6:13PM EST
Public comments made by political leaders about the verdict in the Colten Boushie case can’t undermine the justice system when it comes to Indigenous people because it is already fundamentally broken, says an Indigenous lawyer.
Pam Palmater, associate professor and chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, says a lack of Indigenous people working within the justice system means they face systematic racism as victims and accused.
“That’s been a problem from the very beginning. No visibly Indigenous police officers, Crown counsel, defence counsel, jury, judges, corrections, I mean, all the way around this is a non-Indigenous system,” Palmater, who is Mi’kmaq, told CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
“Society, unfortunately, and government has allowed to move forward dispossession, oppression and racism of Indigenous people with almost complete impunity. And this case is just a prime example of that.”
Protests across Canada over the weekend demanded change after a jury – which did not include any visibly Indigenous people – acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on Friday of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Boushie in August 2016. Stanley said the shooting was an accident after he confronted four young men who came on to his farm.
Members of the Boushie family met Monday with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett in Ottawa. They are also scheduled to meet with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Tuesday.
“We have little to no faith in the justice system. We’re here to talk about that and figure out ways to address that. This is the beginning and I hope that something comes of it,” said Boushie’s cousin Jade Tootoosis, wearing colourful tribal beads and a black T-shirt reading “STRONG, RESILIENT, INDIGENOUS.”
Tootoosis spoke before a group of reporters with Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s uncle Alvin Baptiste, and the family’s lawyer Chris Murphy.
“We are hopeful to make a change, to achieve justice for Colten,” she said.
The family said the concept of jury reform was raised during meeting with Philpott and Bennett.
“Some people have stated that race has nothing to do with this process, yet the defence felt threatened by an Indigenous person being on the jury,” she said. Would it have changed the outcome? It may have. But we’ll never know.”
Murphy, the family’s lawyer, said removing “preemptory challenge” during jury selection (something much of the U.K. and U.S. have done) is an easy step in remedying a system advocates say is stacked against racial minorities. He said that during jury selection for Stanley’s trial, he and the Boushie family watched Indigenous people get immediately turned away.
“Everybody wants an impartial jury,” he said, “but there are a lot better ways to determine partiality or bias than looking at a person’s skin. So let’s change it. It’s an easy fix.”
A number of high-ranking government leaders, including the prime minister, have spoken out about the case. Justin Trudeau said the justice system has to “do better.” Wilson-Raybould, who is Indigenous, wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do better - I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”
Philpott tweeted in part: “We all have more to do to improve justice & fairness for Indigenous Canadians.”
Critics, including opposition members and some in the legal community, have challenged the appropriateness of political leaders seeming to question a jury’s findings. Some have said the comments jeopardize the ability to find an impartial jury if there is an appeal.
But Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, disagrees.
“Politicians are just speaking from the heart and they are speaking the truth, so critics will be critics. The fact remains a young man got killed and there was no justice,” he said on Your Morning Monday. “I pose this question to all those critics and all those people who think that Gerald Stanley was justified in what he did: What would you do if that was your child? What would you expect? And how would you feel?”
His organization, which represents 74 First Nations groups in Saskatchewan, is demanding both an appeal and federal inquiry. He says he has urged justice officials to listen to those who have experienced the system first-hand.
“The system is flawed. It was designed to fail First Nations people and many other people. There has to be more positive change and you’re not going to get any better recommendations (than) from people who have suffered through the justice system, families like the Boushie family.”
Cameron says the Boushie verdict is a “huge step backwards” for reconciliation between Canada and its Native people. But he remains hopeful.
“Putting our brains together and minds together and our hearts together should rectify it.”
Palmater, on the other hand, is not hopeful about the family’s meetings with government leaders.
“I think, unfortunately, they’re just going to get more words to try to placate them,” she said. “There will be no real commitment for change and that’s part of the problem with this and other governments, it’s always been words and less action.”