SASKATOON — The mother of an Indigenous man shot and killed on a Saskatchewan farm says a watchdog’s review shows the injustice she faced when she was racially discriminated by RCMP.
Debbie Baptiste says she was never going to allow the officers’ response to the death of her son, Colten Boushie, to be swept under the rug.
The 22-year-old died in August 2016 when an SUV he was riding in went onto Gerald Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask.
A jury acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder, as he testified that he had fired warning shots and the gun “just went off.”
Concerns were raised about how police handled Boushie’s death and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission studied the RCMP investigation.
The commission outlined several missteps by police, saying that officers treated Boushie’s mother so insensitively when they notified her of his death that it amounted to discrimination.
The commission says officers told Debbie Baptiste to “get it together,” questioned whether she had been drinking, smelled her breath and searched her home without permission.
“After spending the evening fearing that something had happened to her son and just seeing her worst fears realized, Ms. Baptiste saw her home encircled by a large number of armed police officers and had to endure this treatment from the RCMP members who remained in her home for about 20 minutes,” the commission wrote.
It also found two officers inappropriately showed up to Boushie’s wake to update her on the criminal case.
The commission says the way police notified the public about the shooting caused suffering to the young man’s family because it allowed people to form an inaccurate picture of what happened,
It says an initial press release by RCMP focused mostly on alleged property crimes and failed to mention someone had been arrested for murder in Boushie’s death.
The commission says Boushie didn’t leave the vehicle or touch any of the belongings on Stanley’s farm.
Despite issuing other releases updating the public about the progress of the investigation, the watchdog concluded RCMP communications gave the public piecemeal information, fuelling racial tensions online and in the community.
At one point, former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall called for calm after a deluge of racist and hate-filled messages were posted online about Boushie’s death.
The commission also found RCMP didn’t properly protect the SUV Boushie had been riding in, resulting in the loss of blood spatter and other evidence.
“It is not known, and will never be known, what difference this evidence, as well as any other evidence lost as a result of the failure to protect the vehicle, could have had on the outcome of the case,” it wrote.
The National Police Federation representing front-line officers took issue with the finding of discrimination, and said the review showed police generally carried out a professional investigation.