Hundreds of people rallied Thursday morning outside a Saskatchewan courthouse where a rancher accused of fatally shooting a First Nations man pleaded not guilty.
Gerald Stanley is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.
Supporters of Boushie chanted “Justice for Colten” as lawyers left after Stanley’s 9:30 a.m. appearance in a packed North Battleford provincial courtroom.
A bail hearing for Stanley was held several hours later at Court of Queen’s Bench in the town of North Battleford.
The details of the hearing are protected under a publication ban. The judge also ordered six people – all potential witnesses – not be allowed in court for the proceeding.
Around 75 people, including about a dozen members of Stanley’s family and 10-12 reporters, were in the room. At one point, sheriffs were sent to ask demonstrators outside to stop drumming as the sound was interfering with court recording equipment.
— Chris Vandenbreekel (@Vandecision) August 18, 2016
Boushie was killed on Aug. 9 after the vehicle he was in drove onto a farm in the rural municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon.
A cousin, who was also in the car along with several others, said they were heading home to the Red Pheasant reserve after an afternoon of swimming when they got a flat tire and were looking for help.
“He went to have a good time at the lake, he promised me he was going to come home. Instead he comes home in a casket,” said Boushie’s brother, William, outside the provincial court in North Battleford Thursday morning.
William spoke about how much Colten – referred to as Coco – loved his community and how the support of those at the courthouse was appreciated.
“(Colten) served his people right and it makes me happy to see these people here today because Coco would want that. Coco would want to see these people support him because he was a man of his community and somebody took him so (suddenly),” he said.
William added he wanted to meet Stanley, so the man could understand the pain he was in.
“I hope I can find forgiveness in my heart in the long run, but right now I’m grieving. I’m hurt, there’s loss. This man took the light from my eyes; I’ll never get (Colten) back. I just want justice,” he said.
Boushie’s friend Edward Sooinias also spoke at the rally and hoped something positive could come from Colten’s death.
“I want to see a difference made. I want people to come together and support each other instead of fighting. No one deserves this,” he said.
An increased presence of RCMP officers was seen around the North Battleford courthouse; police also cordoned off the street out front to allow for the gathering.
The influx of people impacted logistics at the courthouse. Staff there told News Talk Radio reporters in North Battleford they weren’t used to the amount of people coming through security.
As the first hearing wrapped up, people drummed and chanted outside the courthouse. Stanley’s family members and supporters left through the front door, walking in the thick of the crowd while escorted by RCMP.
— Bryn Levy (@BrynLevy) August 18, 2016
— Bryn Levy (@BrynLevy) August 18, 2016
Stanley family issues statement
Scott Spencer, Gerald Stanley’s defence lawyer, sent a written release to media on behalf of the Stanley family:
“The Stanley family wishes to express condolences to the family of Colten Boushie. His death is a tragedy.
A number of media outlets have contacted the Stanley family seeking their side of the story.
While the circumstances of the incident are not as simple as many media reports have portrayed, the Stanley family will reserve comment until completion of the criminal process.
Although the rampant speculation and misinformation is frustrating, it is not the place for, or reasonable to expect, the Stanley family to correct the public record.
Rather, justice, for Colten and Gerry, requires that the facts of this matter be presented and tested in the appropriate judicial forum.
We hope that all will reserve judgment until those facts are established.”
‘Violence has got to stop’
Rallies were also held in Regina and Saskatoon, with the latter drawing more than 50 people.
“I’m here to support the family,” said Roxanne Poundmaker, who attended the rally outside Saskatoon Provincial Court Thursday morning.
“We have to stop racism because there is too much nowadays. I have six kids and I don’t want them to experience it,” she said.
Jackie Crowe, who helped organize the event, said she was glad to see the tragedy had “touched the hearts of many people.”
Crowe was emotional when she retold the discrimination she faced as a child.
“I had two older ladies come up to me and say, ‘Look at that dirty little Indian girl,'” she said. “I ran home to my mother in tears.”
In Regina, a handful of people turned up outside the provincial courthouse to show their support for Boushie.
“We’re showing solidarity with Colten’s family. The violence has got to stop in our communities,” said Star Andreas, who attended the rally.
“I do believe there was always a race war here, there was always. But come on, enough’s enough now. Let’s try love now.”
Sharon Wesequate said she showed up to support the family as well. She said she knows what it’s like to lose loved ones and feels the Boushie family’s pain.
“It hurts when I hear about other people getting shot, like native people,” she said.
The group wrote messages of condolence in cards for the Boushies, and plans to send them to the family as this story unfolds in court.
— JT Marshall (@jtmarshallCKOM) August 18, 2016
Farmers commit to solidarity
Racial tensions have flared since Boushie was killed.
First Nations leaders said the first RCMP news release about the shooting was biased. It said that people in the car had been taken into custody as part of a theft investigation. They were released without charges.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the RCMP statement “provided just enough prejudicial information” for people to draw the conclusion that the shooting was somehow justified.
RCMP Supt. Rob Cameron said police handled the investigation fairly and competently. He also said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the FSIN’s concerns.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall took to Facebook to condemn what he called “racist and hate-filled” comments after the shooting.
Some of the comments on social media sites were anti-First Nation, while others supported vigilante justice against the suspect in the case.
One widely-circulated screen grab from a Saskatchewan farmers group on Facebook said: “His only mistake was leaving three witnesses.” That group has since been closed.
The National Farmers Union put out a statement Wednesday expressing sadness over Boushie’s death and the comments that have followed.
“As farmers, we condemn the rampant racist remarks that have circulated since the death of Colten Boushie, including comments made on the ‘Saskatchewan Farmers’ Facebook group. We also commit ourselves to building relationships of solidarity, mutual respect, and friendship with our indigenous neighbours, and to honouring our obligations as treaty people,” said the union.
Innes said the racial divide isn’t going to be solved any time soon.
“When people are celebrating the death of an indigenous man and calling for the killing of more indigenous men, we have to acknowledge that there is racism in this province.”
– With files from Bryn Levy, Chris Vandenbreekel, The Canadian Press and BattlefordsNOW.