By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
BATTLEFORD, Sask. — The federal justice minister has said the country “can and must do better” after a white farmer was acquitted in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man — a verdict that sparked a firestorm of criticism from First Nations groups across Canada.
A jury in Battleford, Sask., deliberated 13 hours before finding Gerald Stanley not guilty of second degree murder Friday in the 2016 death of Colten Boushie, a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted her sympathy for Boushie’s family, adding that she is “committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”
Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Clint Wuttunee called the ruling “absolutely perverse.”
“Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head at point blank range. Nevertheless an all white jury formed the twisted view of that obvious truth and found Stanley not guilty,” he said
Wuttunee added that the verdict has “crushed the spirit” of the people of Red Pheasant First Nation.
Boushie’s family had previously expressed concern that the deck was stacked against them during the court process.
Alvin Baptiste, Boushie’s uncle, said there needs to be a change.
“Something has to be done about this. The government, Justin Trudeau, we ask you to give us Indigenous people justice,” Baptiste said.
There was an almost immediate response from Ottawa.
“I’m not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today, but I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times,” the prime minister said at a news conference in Los Angeles.
“Indigenous people across this country are angry, they’re heartbroken, and I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better.”
But Conservative MP Lisa Raitt tweeted that she was “concerned” about the prime minister’s and justice minister’s decisions to weigh in.
“I don’t know if they are implying that the jury got the decision wrong. If they are, the individual jurors are prohibited from explaining themselves,” she wrote, adding that the Crown can appeal the decision.
The head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations held a late night news conference Friday as a result of the verdict.
With Colton Boushie’s relatives standing behind him Chief Bobby Cameron reported that Wilson-Raybould would meet with the family “to make some serious, positive change to meet the recommendations of the family.”
Cameron didn’t say what the changes might be but had earlier indicated an immediate appeal of the verdict and a public inquiry into the justice process during the trial.
He also told reporters that karma would eventually catch up with Stanley.
“Don’t think for a second you’ve got away with this because sometime down the line you’re going to pay.”
Cameron called for “peaceful gatherings” to protest the verdict.
“We are all hurt, but retailiation will not soothe the anger, hurt or the shock. These are deep wounds that we have been subject to and the reality of this is now evident to the rest of the world,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Kimberly Jonathan, a vice-chief with the FSIN said Indigenous people will continue pushing for change.
“We didn’t want more here. We wanted justice. There will be an inquiry. We’d support that. And we will be going to the Hill and we will be speaking as loud and strong as we can,” she said.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, held a news conference on Saturday saying that while he supports an inquest, he doesn’t think it will be enough to create lasting, system-wide change.
“We have to call on governments to work with us and develop (an) anti-racism plan and strategy,” he said, adding that there should be a complete overhaul of the justice system, which he said is rife with systemic racism.
The Indigenous Joint Action Coalition called for a day of action Saturday to show “solidarity and support” for the Boushie and Baptiste family.
Rallies were scheduled across the country — in Battleford, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and on Parliament Hill.
The trial heard that Boushie was shot in the head while he was sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask.
The SUV driver testified the group had been drinking during the day and tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but went to the Stanley property in search of help with a flat tire.
Stanley, 56 testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun “just went off.”
There were sobs of despair and cries of “murderer” in the courtroom Friday night when the not guilty verdict was read.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated that a not guilty plea sparked firestorm. It was the verdict that prompted backlash.