Family members of Colten Boushie delivered a fiery call for justice at the international table Wednesday, as they called for the United Nations to undertake a study of systemic racism against Indigenous people in Canada's judicial and legal systems.
"The Canadian justice system has failed Colten, our community and Indigenous people in ways that impedes our human rights," Jade Tootoosis, cousin to Boushie, told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, describing this failure as one of the state to uphold treaty rights.
"We deserve better. My brother Colten deserves better."
Family shares Boushie's story
Boushie's family attended the forum in New York City to raise awareness about the circumstances around the 22-year-old's death and the handling of the case.
The man from Red Pheasant First Nation, in Saskatchewan, died of a gunshot wound after he and a group of Indigenous friends drove onto the property of farmer Gerald Stanley on August 2016.
During Stanley's trial for second-degree murder earlier this year, the jury heard that he and his family believed the individuals were there to steal property, with Stanley expressing fears for his family's life.
Stanley was acquitted of all charges in Boushie's death. The Crown decided not to appeal the jury verdict.
"The acquittal was celebrated by the majority of settlers on the notion that material property is worth more than an Indigenous life," Tootoosis told the UN forum, using a term some Indigenous people use to describe non-Indigenous people who came to Canada and occupied Native lands.
"The systemic injustices, the acquittal and the decision not to appeal show that justice is not equally applied to Indigenous people in Canada."
She said Boushie and his family continue to be "misrepresented" in social media, with racial hatred on display.
"Colten was not a thief. He was a kind and generous young man," she told the forum.
Tootoosis called on the UN to have its special rapporteur study systemic racism against Indigenous people within the Canadian judicial and legal systems. The study must produce recommendations to protect the Indigenous families accessing these systems, she said.
"This will advance our calls on the Canadian government to establish a royal commission on the elimination of racism in the justice system," Tootoosis said.
She felt only such a commission would have the authority to address what she called "the miscarriage of justice" in her cousin's death.
Indigenous rights on global scale
Tootoosis's speech was part of an annual two-week session to discuss Indigenous issues.
Afterward, Tootoosis and Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, described themselves as honoured to have been able to address the UN.
"We would like the justice system to change, and we would like a fair chance and an opportunity that we get heard and our rights are taken into consideration," said Baptiste.
Tootoosis said many at the UN forum had already heard of Boushie's story and were full of support and prayers for his family. Other Indigenous people from elsewhere in the world shared their stories with the family, and talked about their struggles in accessing justice as well, she said.
"This isn't just a Saskatchewan issue. This isn't just a Canadian issue. This is a human rights issue," Tootoosis said, adding everyone should have the right not to be discriminated against based on their skin colour or background.
"This is about Colten and it's about so much more at the same time because too many — too many — families have experienced what we've experienced — [it's] unacceptable on a global scale as well."