A nation is angry right now. In Canada, dozens of rallies occurred this weekend to “prompt in reckoning across the country”. Many of us are ashamed – and we should be.
It was on August 6, 2016 that Colten Boushie, a 22 year old Cree man Saskatchewan, was shot dead by Gerald Stanley. Colten and his four friends, stopped at a farm house with a flat hire to seek help. Stanley shot Colten in the head at blank range killing him instantly. Stanley was accused of second-degree murder on February 9, 2018 he was fully acquitted by an all-white jury. The defense: “he brandished a weapon and it fired accidentally”.
Colten’s death was an “accident”. Stanley shot two warning shots into the air when he saw Colten, but the third, the one that went through the back of his head – that one was a misfire. If the jury believed Stanley intended to kill then he would have been found guilty, but they determined that the white farmer was simply careless in discharging the firearm.
But then, could Stanley have been found guilty of manslaughter? Afterall, Stanley ended the life of a 22 year old man. Colten’s death, beyond intent, should have warranted some form of justice. But, it turns out that the jury found him guilty of nothing. Thus, another white person killed an Indigenous person and was lawfully able to walk free.
This weekend, I witnessed Canadians finally see the institutionalized racism of which this country so often ignores. Those who were shocked asked, how could this happen?
The reason Gerald Stanley was acquitted for Colten Boushie’s murder was because the case was slanted in Stanley’s favour from the very beginning.
For one, the initial police report said Colten’s friend were taken into custody as part of a theft investigation.
Second, the RCMP officers who came to Colten’s home after the shooting were said to be insensitive and treated his family like suspects.
Third, the court alluded to Colten and friends being intoxicated during the time of the crime. Colten’s family members had to remind the court that it was Stanley that on trial, not the deceased.
Fifth, the trial took placed in a community plagued by a well-documented racist and colonial past that has always favoured white folks.
Sixth, many Saskatchewan people defended Stanley and presumed his innocence through initial online discourse. These opinions were posted alongside a floodgate of racist and derogatory comments connecting Colten’s indigenous identity to criminality, and so of course Stanley had the right to defend his farmland… They believed Colten’s death was justified.
Seventh, and definitely not last, was the fact that Colten’s case was examined by a judge and a jury of no visibly indigenous members.
Homogenous juries are flawed juries; they should represent the community of which the case takes place as a whole, and ultimately the white jury incontrovertibly taints the verdict. It was biased, plain and simple.
But, how can the case of an poor Indigenous man killed by a white farmer have garnered such a homogeneous cabinet? David Butt from The Globe and Mail explains that, “When the Crown and the defense lawyers select jurors at the start of the case, each side has a number of ‘peremptory challenges’, a number that varies with the offence charged. These peremptory challenges allow each lawyer to automatically disqualify potential jurors, no reasons required”.
In Colten’s case, the defense used the peremptory challenges to eliminate anyone who was visibly Indigenous.
The unjust death of Colten Boushie and acquittal of Gerald Stanley led to dozens of rallies throughout the nation. People wore T-shirts and buttons with the words, “Justice for Colten”. Indigenous folks are angry and heartbroken, believing the justice system, and the country as a whole, treats them unfairly.
It quickly became a trending topic of discussion on Twitter.
Colten’s family is distraught, feeling as though their son has been killed for the second time with news of Stanley’s acquittal. They have recently arrived in Ottawa to discuss the “the distrust and the injustices that we experienced as a family with the loss of Colten, and throughout the trial process,” and their lawyer is in discussing the matter with the Minister of Indigenous-Crown Affairs. The family claims that people are finally listening.
In a moving article by Shree Paradkar from the Toronto Star, he states:
“Why is it that Friday night’s not guilty verdict in the young man’s death, which is a moment of national shame, does not shake you to your core? Why has the grief and outrage that led spontaneously to more than a dozen protests across Canada the day after the verdict not enraged you, not fired up your fears for your children’s future, and not driven you to speak up against repeated centuries-old injustice enacted under your nose?”
Indifference makes us all complicit, Paradkar concludes. But being aware, tweeting, sharing articles about Colten Boushie’s death are also not enough.
The first vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says, “It’s easy to send a tweet. We need to translate that into action, not just a handshake and a hug”.
“Justice for Colten” can only happen through systematic change. The Crown needs to file an appeal for Colten Boushie, and the only way that can occur is if people email the Attorney General of Saskatcheqan (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Attorney General of Canada (email@example.com) and pressure them to file the appeal.
By reporting the GoFundMe started to support Gerald Stanley, the money can hopefully be returned and the man who killed Boushie can no longer be financially supported. Sadly, the campaign received $41,000 in one day. However, the fund goes against its terms and conditions as its associated with crimes of “hate, violence, harassment, bullying and discrimination”.
Another GoFundMe campaign was started to support the Boushie family, and I encourage everyone to give donations to help a family in mourning.
Clicktivism and “spreading awareness” are things we should no longer prioritize. You can like the status of an Indigenous activist, you can be angry just like everyone else, but it doesn’t matter unless you are willing to examine your own lives and families, and attempt to foster some change.
But really, for me what Gerard Stanley’s acquittal and Colten Boushie’s death has done was instill me with a seeing-red anger. This will forever stunt my patience with Devil’s Advocates, with the white folks who blindly defend other white folks, and casual racists who type vile through keyboards online.
I personally repent for any notions I’ve previously made that have emphasized virtues of “guilty until proven innocent” perpetuated by a flawed and biased system that presumes the innocence of guilty white people and criminality of others. It’s true: Canadians, its institutions, and myself – we all need to do better.