‘Support is needed on both sides,’ says organizer of Stanley fundraiser
The man behind an online fundraiser for Gerald Stanley, the Saskatchewan farmer acquitted of murder in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, says he had no idea how much money — or how much attention — it would attract.
“I did not expect it to take off like it did,” said Samuel Olson, who launched the fundraiser using the website GoFundMe on Feb. 9, hours after a two-week trial concluded with a Battleford jury finding Stanley not guilty.
As of Wednesday evening, more than 2,600 people had given more than $180,000 to the Gerald Stanley Support Fund. A defence lawyer who didn’t want to be identified said a murder trial lasting two to three weeks typically costs a defendant between $125,000 and $200,000.
“So many people are looking at this as, ‘Holy (expletive), this could have been me.’ I can see it that way, too. This could have been me, this could have been my dad. In that sense, I guess I can relate,” said Olson, who used to live near Stanley ’s Biggar-area farm.
At the same time, Olson — who now resides in Alberta — said he has no intention of weighing in on what happened in Stanley’s farmyard on Aug. 9, 2016, and that he has “never said that (Stanley) didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I could see it being seen as me being one-sided. I can see that. I can see why people would look at me like that. I understand that. But I do have to say, I’m not at all one-sided on this. It was a really terrible circumstance to be found in,” he said.
Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree resident of nearby Red Pheasant First Nation, spent Aug. 9, 2016, swimming and drinking with four friends before the SUV in which they were travelling drove onto Stanley’s farm in the Rural Municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon.
According to witness testimony during the trial, one occupant of the SUV attempted to start a quad on Stanley’s property, after which the SUV collided with another vehicle parked in the farmyard.
Boushie was sitting in the driver’s seat of the SUV when he was killed by a gunshot to the head. Stanley, testifying in his own defence, said he fired two warning shots into the air and thought his pistol was empty when he reached into the driver’s window to turn the SUV’s ignition off. He said the gun “just went off.”
Following Stanley’s acquittal, Boushie’s family and supporters called for an examination of how the criminal case and jury trial unfolded.
Boushie’s death and Stanley’s trial polarized Saskatchewan to such an extent that prominent politicians, including then-premier Brad Wall, called for an end to online vitriol. Premier Scott Moe this week said “racist” comments have no place in the province.
The fund Olson started drew donations from people who were obviously using false names, including the names of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Others left messages that read “Private Property Matters” and “It’s not racism, Just cause they say it is.”
Olson said he’s been deleting “made-up or stupid” names and disabled the comments feature on the fundraising website after multiple “pretty nasty” posts. GoFundMe spokeswoman Rachel Hollis said this week that the company is “taking action” against false names being used on the page.
“I’ve never once said that I agree with what happened,” Olson said. “Support is needed on both sides, in my opinion, and I see that Colten’s friends and family have an incredible amount of support. I don’t see what’s wrong with supporting both sides.”