The federal justice minister has said the country “can and must do better” after a white farmer was acquitted in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man — a verdict that sparked a firestorm of criticism from First Nations groups across Canada.
A jury in Battleford, Sask., deliberated 13 hours before finding Gerald Stanley not guilty of second degree murder Friday in the 2016 death of Colten Boushie, a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted her sympathy for Boushie’s family, adding that she is “committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”
Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Clint Wuttunee called the ruling “absolutely perverse.”
“Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head at point blank range. Nevertheless an all white jury formed the twisted view of that obvious truth and found Stanley not guilty,” he said
Wuttunee added that the verdict has “crushed the spirit” of the people of Red Pheasant First Nation.
Boushie’s family had previously expressed concern that the deck was stacked against them during the court process.
Alvin Baptiste, Boushie’s uncle, said there needs to be a change.
“Something has to be done about this. The government, Justin Trudeau, we ask you to give us Indigenous people justice,” Baptiste said.
There was an almost immediate response from Ottawa.
“I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling tonight,” the prime minister tweeted from Los Angeles. “Sending love to them from the U.S.”
“Devastating news tonight for the family & friends of #ColtenBoushie. My thoughts & prayers are with you in your time of grief & pain. We all have more to do to improve justice & fairness for Indigenous Canadians,” tweeted Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe posted on Facebook urging people to be “measured” in their response to the verdict.
“Let us all remember our personal responsibility for our thoughts, our actions, and our comments — including those on social media,” he wrote.
The head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations held a late night news conference Friday as a result of the verdict.
With members of Colten Boushie’s family standing behind him Chief Bobby Cameron reported he had heard from Ottawa.
“I had a telephone conversation (along with) Jade, and Alvin and the rest of the family, just 10 minutes ago,” Cameron said.
“Jody Wilson is going to sit down with the family really quick to make some serious, positive change to meet the recommendations of the family.”
Cameron didn’t say what the changes might be but had earlier indicated an immediate appeal of the verdict and a public inquiry into the justice process during the trial.
He also told reporters that karma would eventually catch up with Stanley.
“Don’t think for a second you’ve got away with this because sometime down the line you’re going to pay.”
Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq, from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, had a brief comment on Twitter.
“There is no justice. You kill with impunity. Congratulations.”
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said there was no justice for Boushie.
“We will never give up on justice for First Nations in Saskatchewan or anywhere else in Canada,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our Treaties are about maintaining peace and justice between Nations.”
Kimberly Jonathan, a vice-chief with the FSIN said Indigenous people will continue pushing for change.
“We didn’t want more here. We wanted justice. There will be an inquiry. We’d support that. And we will be going to the Hill and we will be speaking as loud and strong as we can,” she said.
The Indigenous Joint Action Coalition called for a day of action Saturday to show “solidarity and support” for the Boushie and Baptiste family.
And rallies were scheduled for Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria.
The trial heard that Boushie was shot in the head while he was sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask.
The SUV driver 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, 56 testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun “just went off.”
There were sobs of despair and cries of “murderer” in the courtroom Friday night when the not guilty verdict was read.