Content warning: anti-Indigenous racism, colonialism, violence
In August 2016, 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation reserve, and four of his friends stopped at a farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan to seek help with a flat tire. Boushie was subsequently shot and killed by the owner of the farm, Gerald Stanley, who has since been charged with second-degree murder. Stanley is scheduled to stand trial on February 5, 2018. This case has intensified long-standing racial tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and further exposed the racist foundations of the Canadian legal system.
The racial implications of the Colten Boushie trial have been evident from the start. Early on, a Saskatchewan municipal councillor commented, “[Stanley’s] only mistake was leaving witnesses.” Tensions escalated further as a seemingly all-white jury was selected for Stanley’s trial. The lack of Indigenous representation on the jury is not accidental; jury duty is made inaccessible by factors ranging from the cost and distance of travel to the systemic exclusion of Indigenous peoples from jury duty through legislative processes. Additionally, during the jury selection process, Stanley’s defense allegedly challenged and dismissed all potential jurors who were visibly Indigenous, preventing them from being on the final jury.
The case exemplifies discriminatory law enforcement practices. When the police arrived at the Boushie residence to inform the family of Colten’s death, they searched the Boushie home and surrounding area without permission. Some officers, with guns drawn, demanded that Colten’s distressed mother “get herself together,” and asked her if she was drunk. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has also been accused of fuelling assumptions founded on racist stereotypes by attempting to link Boushie’s murder with unrelated cases of theft in the region.
Stanley’s defense argued that a fear for his personal safety motivated the shooting. This rationale is rooted in stereotypes that characterize Indigenous people as dangerous and inherently criminal, which in turn influences the treatment and sentencing of cases involving Indigenous people. In fact, Saskatchewan has a long history of failing to deliver adequate justice in cases where Indigenous people were harmed, or in cases that involve racialized violence perpetrated by law enforcement. In the 1995 killing of Pamela George, an Indigenous woman from Regina, the white murderers were granted full parole after only five years in prison. In 2000, Saskatoon police officers were discovered to have been taking part in ‘starlight tours’ for years, in which Indigenous people were picked up for drunkenness, driven to the outskirts of the city, and then abandoned outside to freeze in the extreme cold. Two police officers involved in one such case served eight months in prison, and no other criminal charges were pursued.
Stanley’s lawyer insists that the Boushie case, “has nothing to do with race,” but historical and ongoing anti-Indigenous violence and the inherent power imbalances in the settler-colonial legal system prove otherwise. Over the course of the trial, and beyond, it is important that support is shown for the families of murdered Indigenous people, and that Indigenous voices are centred in calling for justice and healing. Moreover, it is imperative to advocate for justice in a legal system that is built on the underrepresentation, neglect, and erasure of Indigenous and other racialized people. Other ways to help the Boushie family, like petitions and fundraisers,can be found at: https://www.change.org/p/canadians-justice-for-colten-boushie or https://www.gofundme.com/justice4colten.