Earlier this month, the Canadian Justice System failed not only the late Colten Boushie and his loved ones by allowing his killer to walk free; they also failed the indigenous population. Gerald Stanley, a 56-year-old farmer in Saskatchewan, was acquitted by the jury of the charge of second-degree murder of 22-year-old Boushie, a young Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation reserve. Indigenous people nationwide and their supporters are left to mourn the loss of not only Boushie but the loss of justice for Boushie. Sadly, the Boushie family’s disappointment in the Canadian Justice system is not a new one for Canada’s indigenous people – and that is not okay.
Murder or Manslaughter: What Really Happened?
The confusing chain of events that took place on the eve of August 9, 2016, when young Colten Boushie was tragically killed, took the jury several hours to sift through prior to Stanley’s acquittal. Let’s look first at what we know about this controversial case: there was the consumption of alcohol, there were guns, and there were misunderstandings. We know that Boushie was shot with Stanley’s gun. We know that Stanley claims he didn’t know the gun was still loaded, and yet we know that witnesses recall 3 to 4 shots being fired. Finally, the most important detail of this fateful evening: we know that Colten Boushie’s life was tragically and unceremoniously snuffed out for no reason at all, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of his murderer enraged an entire nation.
As for the trial, we know that the decision came from an all-white jury, and we know that the man who committed a murder, whether involuntary or not, is free to live a life. Stanley can see and be near his family; a privilege the Boushie family will forever be denied.
This was no ordinary trial, and the jury’s decision has been scrutinized ever since Stanley was acquitted. People are angry – fuming – and it’s not just indigenous people. Protests and rallies have broken out nationwide as people from all walks of life demand change, and perhaps the most powerful voice in the impressive crowd comes from Colten Boushie’s own mother. Debbie Baptiste, through her grief, found the strength to speak and fight for her lost child, and for all Indigenous people:
“Enough,” she said. “We’re going to fight back.”
And Baptiste is not alone in this declaration of war.
Native Americans in Canada: A Dark History
It’s no secret that Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been treated appallingly ever since the European invasion and eventual settlement on Canadian soil centuries ago. Treaties are recognized under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, of course, but considering the Canadian Justice System’s latest offense by means of the Stanley trial, it’s clear that the system in place currently is not only flawed, it’s also entirely unacceptable.
The relationship between Indigenous people and Canada has been struggling over the last several decades, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attempting to heal the wound – one that has been neglected for far too long.
Hope for Indigenous People
In his speech on Wednesday, which addressed a variety of indigenous issues, Trudeau announced a plan for a legal framework to secure the rights of indigenous people in all government decisions – something that past governments have failed to do for an embarrassingly long period of time. This framework will put Canada’s antiquated colonial policies to pasture and will ensure full, true implementation of treaties, land rights, and self-governance for Canada’s indigenous people.
“We need to get to a place where indigenous peoples in Canada are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future,” Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister met with Boushie’s family the day before this pledge, and while he would not comment publicly on the trial or the legal process, he did state that “we have come to this point as a country far too many times.” The plan he announced on Wednesday is a step in the right direction, and if successful, gives some hope to indigenous people that young Colten’s death wasn’t entirely in vain.
Indigenous Relations: A Change In the Tide
Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people is and has for some time, been simply disgusting. Since the moment that “white man” set foot on Canadian soil, nothing but grief and abuse followed for the Indigenous people – who, by the way, cared for and cultivated the land for literally thousands of years before the Europeans settled there.
Indigenous people ask only for equal rights and freedoms. They ask only for fair trials and punishment, and that the justice system applies to all Canadians, not just those of a certain colour or culture.
Going forward, Canadians need to stand by the Prime Minister’s efforts to repair the relationship between the indigenous population and Canada. This cannot be a one-man operation. This is at the very core a human rights issue, and that applies to all people, and not just a select group. Indigenous people are not only a part of Canada, they are the true founders of this beautiful country. We must make changes, and not just for our children’s future, but for Colten, and for all the Coltens before him.
Let us prevent another mother from having to bury her own child. Let’s not allow this injustice to take place ever again – Canadians owe that to Colten Boushie.
We need to do better.