PM TRUDEAU SHOULD LEARN RESTRAINT
To the Editor
In suggesting that the Stanley verdict has failed Indigenous people, the Prime Minister was simply wrong.
The Prime Minister is entitled to his feelings and opinions – even the opinion which many share, that the system has failed Indigenous people. What he is not entitled to do, even indirectly, is to undermine the rule of law and the right to trial by jury, established by Magna Carta, over 800 years ago.
He is wrong to question the judgment of a court, particularly a decision by a jury. The right to trial by jury and the duty of ordinary citizens to serve as jurors and be judges of the facts are fundamental to our system of justice.
What the Prime Minister should have done was to channel activists like Saskatchewan Chief Kim Jonathon who pleaded with those gathered outside the Battleford court house, that though they were broken by the news of the acquittal, they should remain calm and peaceful. And he should have channeled activist Niga’an Sinclair, who speaking to a rally in Winnipeg, called for peaceful dialogue in the spirit of change and growth.
He could also have used President Barak Obama as a role model. In 2013, the President commenting on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of the shooter, George Zimmerman, spoke to the grief of the young man’s family and empathized.
He could have railed against the verdict. He stuck with compassion and calmly reflected on the context of poverty, discrimination, violence, unequal application of the law, and over-incarceration which influences the way African-American people view the justice system.
The Prime Minister should back off from any hint that he is second judging the Stanley verdict.
He should call on Parliament to examine the law of defence of property. To strip the Stanley verdict to its bare — and as a lawyer, I am careful to say bare — essentials, we must ask whether a farmer or an apartment dweller has the right to use lethal force, to shoot and kill a trespasser or someone trying to steal his or her vehicle.
And Parliament should ask whether the right to defend one’s property is, or should be, put on the same level as the right to defend one’s life or the lives under one’s protection.
Finally, Parliament must ask why Indigenous people are excluded from serving as jurors. Why do we allow peremptory challenges which allow Crown and defence to exclude jurors without giving any reason? How do we ensure that juries are truly representative of Canadians?
From President Obama, the Prime Minister should learn how to talk about the history of Indigenous experience with the justice system which parallels the history of African-Americans. And from the President and those Indigenous people who call for peaceful dialogue and change, he should learn moderation and restraint. If those who feel the pain of Colten Boushie’s loss can urge calm, we should expect nothing less from Mr. Trudeau.
Peter Kirby LL.B. Kenora