REGINA — RCMP officers showed up at the funeral of a slain Indigenous man, perpetrated racial discrimination against the victim's mother and caused unnecessary suffering for his family over the course of their investigation into his death, a police watchdog concluded in reports released Saturday.
The findings are detailed in two investigations by the RCMP's Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which examined the probe into the death of Colten Boushie.
The 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation was shot and killed in August 2016, while sitting in an SUV which had been driven onto the farm of Gerald Stanley near Biggar, Sask.
A jury acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder after he testified to having fired warning shots and saying his gun "just went off."
Racial divisions flared in Saskatchewan following Boushie's death, and concerns were raised about officers' treatment of his family and the integrity of their investigation.
The commission issued a series of findings and recommendations to address what it described as the "deficiencies identified in the investigation and interactions with the family."
The officers on the case acted with the "best of intentions" in ensuring public safety and laying charges in Boushie's death, RCMP said in a statement issued late Saturday, noting that it requested the outside review.
The commission conducted two reviews of the investigation, one as a public interest investigation and the other in response to a complaint by Boushie's uncle Alvin Baptiste.
In both cases, the watchdog said RCMP made missteps from its first interaction with the family, which was when officers informed Debbie Baptiste that her son had died.
It detailed how officers surrounded her home, didn't provide much information about what happened and proceeded to search her residence, sometimes in unlikely places.
One officer questioned Baptiste about whether she had been drinking, while someone also told her to "get it together."
The commission also said at least one officer smelled her breath.
"Not only did the RCMP members’ actions show little regard or compassion for Ms. Baptiste’s distress and pain, they compounded her suffering by treating her as if she was lying," reads the commission's public interest review.
It said one officer also checked a microwave where Baptiste told them she had placed her son's dinner.
"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.
"She was then left with a lasting and painful memory of her interactions with the RCMP, and few answers about what had happened to her son."
In reviewing the complaint filed by the family, the commission found the Mounties' caused anguish to Boushie's relatives a day after the shooting by how it reported the incident to the public.
The report stemming from the family complaint, obtained by The Canadian Press, said Boushie didn't appear to leave the vehicle that drove onto Stanley's property or touch any of the farmer's belongings.
The commission, however, found the initial media release focused mostly on alleged property offences and failed to mention someone had been arrested for murder.
A few more releases were issued afterwards clarifying details, which the watchdog said resulted in the public getting piecemeal information.
"The approach used by the RCMP could be seen to imply that Mr. Boushie’s killing was somehow justified or “deserved”—a narrative that immediately emerged on social media after the news of the death came out," it said.
"This fueled racial tensions on social media and in the community."
The commission made 47 findings in its public interest review. Among them was the conclusion that two officers acted inappropriately when they attended Boushie's wake to update his relatives on the criminal investigation, further damaging their already fraught relationship with the victim's family.
The report said officers started talking to Boushie's mother when they saw her outside the funeral hall, which she left after the opening of the casket.
"Allowing family members to have a few final hours of peace before their loved one is laid to rest would not have undermined the need to ensure that they be updated about the investigation," the commission said.
It also found RCMP didn't follow proper procedures to protect the SUV on Stanley's property, resulting in "the loss of trace and bloodstain evidence."
In all, the commission made 17 recommendations stemming from the public interest review, including that cultural awareness training be made mandatory for RCMP employees, which it found wasn't always the case.
The Mounties said Saturday that most of the commission's recommendations have been completed and it expects all employees in Saskatchewan to finish their cultural awareness training by April 1.
Meanwhile, the head of the National Police Federation, which represents 20,000 RCMP officers, questioned some aspects of the reports.
Brian Sauve said the commission made "broad-brush findings" about officers based on the historical and social context of the RCMP's relationship with Indigenous peoples, and called into question the "expertise and methodology" used to determine officers were discriminatory.
Sauve also noted that the commission found the police investigation was generally professional and reasonable.
The watchdog said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki accepted most of its recommendations and conclusions, including the finding of discrimination against Boushie's mother.
"She then stated that, 'it is undisputed that the manner in which the next of kin notification was communicated to the family was insensitive and demonstrated poor judgment,'" the report said.
But the watchdog noted her response said "very little about the issues at the heart of this case," focusing more on technical points.
"In that sense, the response could be viewed as a missed opportunity for the RCMP to take responsibility for the manner in which Mr. Boushie’s family and friends were treated," the commission wrote.
A spokeswoman for The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said Boushie's family requested privacy in the wake of the reports' release, adding relatives plan to speak at a news conference Monday.
But lawyers representing them issued a statement saying the force's legitimacy depends on its relationship with those it serves, including Indigenous peoples.
"The foundations of the relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous peoples teeters on a knife’s edge while the public watches," Chris Murphy wrote. "The RCMP will decide on which side the organization will fall."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press