OTTAWA — The grieving relatives of a First Nations man whose accused killer was acquitted by a Saskatchewan jury are meeting federal ministers to take what they call a first step in the long road to reforming Canada’s justice system.
On Friday, a jury found Gerald Stanley, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie, 22, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, said she and her family members are focused on building relationships with people in Ottawa who have the power to change the way Indigenous Canadians are treated in the justice system.
“We’re not in a rush because we want things done right,” Tootoosis said shortly after sitting down Monday with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“We have little to no faith in the justice system. We’re here to talk about that.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during question period that while much needs to be done to fix the way First Nations people are treated within Canada’s criminal justice system, it would be “completely inappropriate” to comment on the specifics of of the verdict.
That prompted shouts from the opposition benches, members of which had assailed Trudeau and his Indigenous justice minister over the weekend for their strong reactions on social media in the wake of the verdict.
“We are committed to broad-based reform to address these issues,” Trudeau said.
“As a country, we must and we can do better” — an echo of a tweet Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould sent after the verdict was delivered.
Asked Monday whether she meant to suggest the acquittal was unjust, Wilson-Raybould said she was speaking in general about a justice system that has been part of a colonial reality for Indigenous Peoples for the past 150 years.
“I turned on the television like many people did and I was confronted with the family, with other Canadians across the country who were displaying anguish, emotion, concerns, and I felt compassion and wanted to acknowledge that compassion,” she said.
She also said the government is taking a close look at the jury selection process and so-called peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates without justification.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he is open to discussions about increasing Indigenous representation on juries.
He said policy-makers, including the province and the federal government, should talk about how to make the justice system better for all.
Wilson-Raybould is expected to meet Boushie’s family Tuesday, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Sen. Murray Sinclair posted a poem online saying he grieves for First Nations youth “who now see no hope,” and says Indigenous Canadians like himself have been grieving for so long it has become part of their DNA.
“I grieve for a family that has not yet seen justice from the moment a handgunned farmer (why does a farmer need such a gun?) pulled the trigger and killed their son,” Sinclair wrote.
Kevin Seesequasis, a Cree Nation councillor in Saskatchewan, said both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents are reeling from what he describes as a horrible failure of the criminal justice system.
“Colten Boushie was not just the victim of a senseless murder,” Seesequasis said.
“If we cannot find some way toward real change for Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, Colten Boushie will also be the victim of a criminal justice system that was stacked against him from the start and a government indifferent to that reality.”
Indigenous faculty members and allies sent an open letter to heads of universities across Canada describing the Stanley verdict as “yet another iteration of the systemic violence that Indigenous peoples in this country have faced for over 150 years.”
The letter, signed by more than 20 faculty members from schools as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, calls for universities to support anti-oppressive education and enhance institutional accountability towards First Nations communities.