A new national poll on the Gerald Stanley trial shows a deep division in public opinion on the case.
On Feb. 9, a jury found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.
Boushie, from the Red Pheasant First Nation, died on Stanley’s farm near Biggar on Aug. 9, 2016. The acquittal sparked public outcry across the country about racism and the justice system.
An Angus Reid online poll of 2,501 people, between Feb.15-19, found the overwhelming majority of people surveyed in Saskatchewan agree the jury’s verdict was “good and fair” — with other Western Canadian provinces leaning in the same direction.
Saskatchewan respondents were 65 per cent in favour of the jury’s verdict, while 44 per cent of Albertans and Manitobans felt the same way.
Across the entire country, opinions on the verdict were split with about 30 per cent of respondents agreeing it was fair and 32 per cent saying the decision to acquit Stanley was “wrong or flawed,” 39 per cent of those polled said they were unsure.
Despite fairly evenly-split opinions across the country on the verdict itself, the majority of people polled did agree it was inappropriate for the prime minister to personally comment on the Boushie case.
Immediately following the verdict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould publicly offered sympathy to Boushie’s family.
Wilson-Raybould tweeted Canada “can and must do better.”
The Stanley case has also raised questions about pre-emptory challenges, which allow both defence and Crown lawyers to dismiss potential jurors without reason.
Boushie’s family members expressed anger about Stanley’s defence lawyers using these challenges to exclude all potential jurors who they say were “visibly Indigenous.”
After meeting with the victim’s family members, federal government officials said they would be open to reforming the justice system to address “systemic issues.”
The Angus Reid poll found 59 per cent of the people surveyed would welcome jury reform to ensure they are more representative.
Seventy-seven of those who say the verdict was fair are of the opinion to maintain the status quo for jury selection.
Those who said the verdict was wrong responded 89 per cent in favour of reforms.
For those who said they were unsure about the verdict, 60 per cent said they would agree with reforms to jury selection.
The results of the poll also split along demographic lines of race, age, gender, region and political affiliations.
People who identified as visible minorities were more likely to agree the not-guilty verdict was flawed, with 41 per cent of respondents agreeing with that statement compared to 30 per cent over all.
This fits with another survey showing minorities had less confidence in the Canadian justice system.
Women of all ages, but particularly those ages 18 to 35, were also more likely than men to agree the jury made the wrong choice. In the youngest age category 50 per cent of women said it was flawed, compared to 35 per cent of men.
The poll showed a generational divide in opinions on the case, with 50 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men ages 18 to 34 saying the verdict was flawed or wrong.
People between the ages of 36 and 54 and those over 55 shared similar views with 40 per cent of men saying the jury made the right decision and 26 per cent of women agreeing.
Across the political spectrum, 54 per cent of Conservative voters agreed the jury’s decision was fair, with 47 per cent of NDP voters and 38 per cent of Liberal voters saying the verdict was wrong or flawed.
Angus Reid surveyed a random sample of 2,501 people who are members of the Angus Reid forum.
According to the polling organization, the survey was designed to include oversamples of people in certain regions, which were weighted to provide a full national snapshot. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.
The Stanley trial drew national media coverage and the survey initially found 79 per cent of those surveyed paid attention to the coverage or at least scanned headlines.
The results excluded the 22 per cent who didn’t know anything about the case.