We need to talk. Specifically, we need to talk about the racism that is so natural and so ingrained in much of the population that most of you don’t realize it is even there. We also need to talk about Colten Boushie, who was shot in the head and killed by a non-Native farmer in Saskatchewan. That farmer was found not guilty of second-degree murder by an all white jury last Friday.
Boushie was from the Red Pheasant First Nation.
A jury in Saskatchewan found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the August 2016 killing of the 22-year-old Boushie. The jury also had the option of finding Stanley guilty of manslaughter, but opted not to.
Boushie was shot in the head with a handgun as he was sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV that had driven onto Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan. The court heard that the SUV that Boushie, and four others, were in had a flat tire. The driver of the vehicle testified that the group of youths had been drinking and tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but went to the Stanley property in search of help with the tire.
Stanley’s lawyer Scott Spencer argued that the 22-year-old Cree man died as a result of a freak accident when the gun misfired and that Stanley never intended to hurt anyone.
In his testimony, Stanley said that he fired warning shots to scare the group off and he said that the fatal shot happened when he reached into SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun “just went off.”
The bullet that killed Boushie was fired into the back of his head, just behind his left ear.
The aftermath of the shooting death showed an ugly side of Saskatchewan. Initial reports said the RCMP had taken the group of young people into custody as a part of a theft investigation, which leaves the impression that somehow the death of Boushie was justified. While Boushie’s relatives said that the RCMP officers who went to the family home following the shooting were insensitive and treated the family like suspects. In another instance, one municipal councilor in the area took to social media and wrote that Stanley’s “only mistake was leaving witnesses.” That councilor has since resigned.
Friday’s not guilty verdict set the Indigenous world on fire with anger. To many, this seemed like a cut-and-dry case: a young man was shot in the head and killed and the shooter, as well as the weapon, was identified and charged.
Over the past several years, Canada has been talking about what it calls “reconciliation” with Indigenous people. Does this look like reconciliation? Does this look like justice? Not in the slightest.
Western Canada is a notoriously bad place to be an Indigenous person. Just look at the cases of Tina Fontaine, or the infamous ‘starlight’ tours where police officers would take Indigenous people out to the edges of cities and force them to walk back in subzero temperatures. In this case alone we can see the level of prejudice experienced by Boushie’s family and community.
How insensitive of the RCMP officers tasked with telling Colten’s mother that her son was murdered treated her and her family as if they had done something wrong.
If Canada is truly serious about reconciliation, it needs to be better. How can there be reconciliation without justice when a young Indigenous person is murdered?