Boushie family was treated unjustly from the beginning, says university professor

·3 min read
A file photo shows a vigil in Montreal in support of Colten Boushie's family on Feb. 13, 2018, following the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on charges in connection with Boushie's death. A Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report concluded police racially discriminated against Debbie Baptiste, Boushie's mother, when its officers notified her of his death. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A file photo shows a vigil in Montreal in support of Colten Boushie's family on Feb. 13, 2018, following the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on charges in connection with Boushie's death. A Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report concluded police racially discriminated against Debbie Baptiste, Boushie's mother, when its officers notified her of his death. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A University of Prince Edward Island professor says a watchdog report that found RCMP racially discriminated against Colten Boushie's mother isn't surprising.

"It was yesterday's news, like, before Colten passed away," Omeasoo Wahpasiw, an assistant professor who teaches in the university's education and arts departments, told The Morning Edition's Ted Deller.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission — an RCMP watchdog agency — released its report this week following a probe into the RCMP's handling of the investigation into Boushie's death.

It concluded RCMP racially discriminated against Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, when officers notified her of his death.

Boushie, 22, was shot and killed after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan drove onto white farmer Gerald Stanley's property near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016.

A jury would later acquit Stanley of second-degree murder.

The shooting and Stanley's not-guilty verdict shone a spotlight on racism and racial tensions in Saskatchewan.

Wahpasiw, who is Nehiyaw from Saskatchewan, said the Boushie family was treated unjustly throughout the trial, and that unfair treatment continues to this day.

"I guess the most harmful, repetitive aspect that comes out is the very initial interactions that the RCMP had with Debbie and then the continued treatment of the family during the trial," said Wahpasiw.

She also points to "the overall idea of criminalization of this young person in Saskatchewan, by the public, by individuals, by the RCMP."

"The initial death is enough trauma, and then each little bit on top of that is just too much for the family and for, honestly, the rest of us."

Omeasoo Wahpasiw is an assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, but used to live in Saskatchewan. She's not optimistic that relationships will improve between police and Indigenous communities without a systemic overhaul.
Omeasoo Wahpasiw is an assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, but used to live in Saskatchewan. She's not optimistic that relationships will improve between police and Indigenous communities without a systemic overhaul. (Submitted by Omeasoo Wahpasiw)

The Morning Edition reached out to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki for comment, but was directed to an online statement which said the RCMP accepts the findings and is committed to implementing the report's recommendations.

The statement also said the RCMP is committed to reconciliation efforts in the province.

Wahpasiw, who helped author a report for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, said the impact of Boushie's death and the aftermath are "devastating and heartbreaking."

"I don't have to carry that pain myself because I'm not Debbie. I'm not the immediate family," she said.

"But to see the people that I grew up with and around the province that I grew up in behave in this manner has, you know, shattered my trust in the province as a whole," Wahpasiw said, adding she has no intentions of ever moving back to Saskatchewan.

"The only people I miss are Indigenous people and the strong Nehiyaw and Saulteax, Nakoda, Dakota, Dene, Métis traditions that are there, because I have lost so much faith in the ability of white settler Canadians in Saskatchewan to see the justice system for what it is — which is simply protecting the idea of who the land belongs to when the land is meant to be shared."

Wahpasiw said a lot of the racism toward Indigenous peoples is based on land ownership.

"I think we could skip a lot of this violence and hate if we just accept the concept of sharing."

Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley in August 2016.
Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley in August 2016.(Submitted.)

The vitriol and the racism directed at the Boushie family on social media has been exacerbated by the actions of the RCMP and the justice system, Wahpasiw said, "from the initial interactions between police all the way through the justice system and the acquittal and the books that are written and the laws that are passed."

It is devastating that so little has changed, she said.

"My heart goes to my stomach to hear that the system continues to not change and that we continue to have these conversations as opposed to something new and more loving, respectful and useful to all people in the country."