Indigenous leaders in Quebec say the Canadian justice system needs to change and the Criminal Code amended in the wake of the Gerald Stanley decision in Saskatchewan, if reconciliation is to be anything but empty words.
Colten Boushie, 22, was shot in the back of the head and killed in August 2016 after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley's rural property in Saskatchewan. Stanley's lawyer Scott Spencer had argued the handgun went off accidentally when Stanley reached inside Boushie's vehicle to turn it off. On Friday, Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder after a jury trial.
"I am shocked and dismayed by the outcome of it. We put our faith in the justice system," said Abel Bosum, grand chief of the Cree Nation in Quebec. Bosum said the decision is a setback in the relationship between Indigenous people and the government of Canada.
"This is really a very bad time for this to happen. When all the political statements being made about trying to deal with Aboriginal issues and working on reconciliation."
The Grand Council of the Crees issued a statement Sunday saying it was "outraged at the blatant miscarriage of justice" in this case, beginning with the jury selection.
"I can't believe there was not a single Aboriginal person who was qualified to sit on that jury," said Bosum.
"I'm sure that Aboriginal people across Canada will lose faith in the system if it's not corrected."
All-white jury 'disturbing,' says chief
Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, agrees that something fundamental needs to change in the way the justice system works in Canada.
"What is shocking is the fact that in a province like Saskatchewan, where we have a high percentage of Indigenous people, you still end up with a [reportedly] all-white jury," said Picard.
"To me that is really what is disturbing," said Picard, who compared it to situations in the U.S., where an all-white jury is chosen in a trial with a black defendant.
"Shouldn't we be asking ourselves that question today: 'Is racism alive and well in Canada?'" said Picard. "To me the Boushie case in Saskatchewan warrants that question today."
The Grand Council of the Crees is demanding the Canadian Criminal Code be amended to eliminate so-called peremptory challenges for jurors. Under the current system, lawyers can reject any potential jurors without needing to give a reason why. The Aboriginal Justice Commission of Manitoba made the recommendation to eliminate it back in 1991.
The Grand Council is also calling both the federal and Saskatchewan governments to mount a "vigorous appeal" of the verdict.
Picard said chiefs from Quebec and Labrador will be meeting this week in Ottawa, with the intention to add their voice to calls from Saskatchewan for a royal commission into how justice is administered to Indigenous people.