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Leaders respond, rallies organized after Stanley acquitted in Boushie’s death
CTV Saskatoon and The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, February 10, 2018 12:05PM CST
Last Updated Saturday, February 10, 2018 10:40PM CST
Rallies and vigils in support of Colten Boushie and his family were organized across Canada on Saturday after a jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the August 2016 shooting death of 22-year-old Cree man.
A 12-person jury delivered the verdict Friday evening in a Battleford courtroom packed with family of both Boushie and Stanley, members of the public and the media.
“This has to stop,” Jade Tootoosis, Boushie’s cousin, told a large crowd Saturday at Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench. “Indigenous people — our lives are meaningful.”
Nearly a dozen people spoke at the rally in Saskatoon including representatives from Indigenous organizations, First Nations chiefs and others.
Former Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Sheldon Wuttunee said, “I want to encourage each and every one of you to love each other, to find tolerance, to educate, to understand, to create a just society.”
Idle No More organizer Sheelah McLean told the crowd she’s a third generation white settler and called on every non-Indigenous person to stop the myths and stereotypes about Indigenous people.
“We are responsible and we have to be accountable,” she said.
Boushie’s mother was in North Battleford, outside the provincial courthouse, rallying alongside numerous others, including Boushie’s brother and uncle.
“Enough,” Debbie Baptiste said. “We're going to fight back ... Enough killing our people.”
The Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, which held a rally in Regina, is analyzing the investigation, jury selection and the handling of the case itself, and believes concerns have been raised about a two-tiered justice system.
"Indigenous people did not create this racial divide. We have lived in it and under it since settlers decided they owned this land," Robyn Pitawanakwat of Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism said in a news release.
"This is not a wake-up call for Canada. This is a stark reminder of the world that we live in," said Michelle Stewart of Colonialism No More. "Colten Boushie is but one example of many in which the lives of Indigenous children and adults can be taken with absolute impunity and the justice system is organized in such a way as to facilitate it. We are coming together across Canada as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to say: enough."
As Stanley was rushed into a vehicle by RCMP after the verdict, outside the court people expressed their views.
"How First Nations are treated in the justice system is not right," Boushie's uncle Alvin Baptiste said. "A white jury came out with a verdict of not guilty of Gerald Stanley, who shot and killed my nephew. This is how they treat us First Nations people. It is not right. Something has to be done about this -- the government, Justin Trudeau, we asked you to give us Indigenous people justice."
In a tweet late Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed sadness for Boushie's family and spoke to reporters Saturday in Los Angeles.
“Our hearts go out to Colten Boushie’s family, his mom Debbie, his friends and the entire community. I’m not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today,” he said. "But I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times. Indigenous people across this country are angry, they’re heartbroken and I know indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to be better,”
The jury deliberated for about 14 hours before reaching its decision.
Stanley, 56, turned and looked into the gallery after the verdict came down while Boushie's family and friends gasped, cried and yelled. Shouts of "murderer" could be heard from those in the gallery.
Boushie's cousin, Tootoosis, said the family will push for an appeal.
"There was no justice served here today. We hoped for justice from Colten. However, we did not see it," said Tootoosis. "We will fight for an appeal and answers to all the racism that my family has experienced from the day that Colten was shot until the jury delivered the verdict of not guilty. We will not stop our pursuit for justice."
The trial heard that Boushie, from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot in the head while he was sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley's farm near Biggar.
The driver of the SUV when it entered the property testified the group had been drinking during the day and tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but went to the Stanley property in search of help with a flat tire.
Stanley's son testified that he and his father heard an ATV start up and they thought it was being stolen.
Stanley testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said that the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun "just went off."
The defence drilled into inconsistencies in the testimony of some of the witnesses who were in the SUV with Boushie.
They admitted they lied to investigators about stealing and changed their stories right before taking the witness stand.
The defence argued in its final summation that there was no evidence that Stanley meant to kill Boushie. Lawyer Scott Spencer said the shooting was a freak accident that ended in tragedy.
Crown prosecutor Bill Burge disputed that, arguing that Stanley handled the firearm carelessly and that the only inference was that he pulled the trigger and fired the fatal shot. Burge said it was clearly an emotional case for the jury.
"One side is very unhappy tonight, but there is never any winner in a case like this," said Burge. "We were there to present the evidence. We didn't leave anything out that would have made a difference. There was nothing more that could be done. We put it out there. The jury made their decision. That's their duty and they took it seriously."
Burge said the Crown would consider whether there are grounds for an appeal.
Neither defence lawyer Scott Spencer nor Stanley commented Friday night. CTV News reached out to Spencer for comment following the verdict.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is urging Trudeau work with First Nations to make major changes to the justice system.
"We will never give up on justice for First Nations in Saskatchewan or anywhere else in Canada," Bellegarde wrote on Twitter. "Our Treaties are about maintaining peace and justice between Nations."
He furthered his comments Saturday in Regina.
“When lives are viewed as less than other people’s lives, and when lives are viewed as even less than even property or possessions, that’s when society breaks down,” Bellegarde said. “We don’t want our society to continue to break down.”
Racial tensions surrounding the case have been high since the shooting.
Indigenous leaders were upset with an initial report from police that the young people had been taken into custody as part of a theft investigation. Boushie's relatives said RCMP officers who came to the family home after the shooting were insensitive and treated them like suspects.
On the other side, there were countless racist and hate-filled posts on social media. One municipal councillor wrote that Stanley's "only mistake was leaving witnesses." He later resigned.
The highly charged atmosphere prompted then-premier Brad Wall to call for calm.
"This must stop," he wrote on Facebook. "These comments are not only unacceptable, intolerant and a betrayal of the very values and character of Saskatchewan, they are dangerous."
Tension continued as the trial began.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Boushie's family raised concerns because there were no visibly Indigenous jurors selected.
There were also pleas for calm following the verdict.
"To all of those who are broken today, please, please remain peaceful," said Kimberly Jonathan, a vice-chief with Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. "It's not us against them.”
She called for peace, but also pointed to residential schools and the ’60s Scoop in her comments on the verdict.
"We felt unsafe then and we're still unsafe. Someone can say it's an accident to shoot any one of us and they are found not guilty,” she said.
"Let's live peaceful, let's coexist and live peacefully."
Comment also came from Dr. Vianne Timmons, the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Regina.
"This is a critical moment in the life of our province. The jury decision in the Gerald Stanley trial exposes deep, historic, economic and social divisions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. But we cannot let the powerful emotions it stirs divert us from the path of truth and reconciliation. I ask all members of our campus community to act responsibly in the wake of the verdict. We must recognize that what we seek is to overcome what divides us. By working together in the spirit of reconciliation we can make this moment a turning point towards a better future for all," Timmons said in a statement.
Premier Scott Moe asked people to be measured in their response.
"I know there may be some strong reactions," Moe said in a statement. "Let us all remember our personal responsibility for our thoughts, our actions, and our comments -- including those on social media.
"Let us continue to demonstrate consideration, patience, and understanding for one another as we move forward together in reconciliation."