Fallout from Boushie death far from over
Moments before Gerald Stanley was acquitted of murder in the death of Colten Boushie, I was in the frigid media room of the Battleford Queen’s Bench courthouse, working on a crossword puzzle.Some reporters from other media outlets had recently ordered pizza, and the cramped room smelled of cheese, grease and sweat. It was late in the day on Feb. 9 and I, like many of my colleagues, assumed the jurors would take a break for the evening and resume deliberations the following morning.I had already filed my story for the next day’s paper, but then a court staff member entered the room and told us a verdict was in. The jury foreman would read it in court in a few moments, at 7:30 p.m.I sent a group text to several editors at The Starphoenix and a plan that had been in place for weeks kicked into action. Well before Stanley’s trial started, staff at the paper had discussed how we would cover the verdict when it came down.The trial had polarized and captivated the province, sparking unprecedented conversations about racism. We wanted to make sure we got information out accurately and quickly.I would work with two co-workers in Battleford to gather information while staff in our Saskatoon newsroom would take information from my Twitter feed, Facebook live videos and emails to create comprehensive stories and push them out to our audience through our website, smartphone app and social media feeds.An evening verdict posed several challenges, including battling against tight deadlines for print and having to shoot photos and videos in the dark.With my support team in place, I hustled up the stairs of the courthouse and into the packed courtroom, where Stanley’s trial had played out over the past two weeks.Stanley had told the jury that Boushie and four other young people from Red Pheasant First Nation trespassed on his property and tried to steal from him. He said he grabbed his gun to fire warning shots and the gun malfunctioned; his defence argued that a delay between the moment when the trigger was pulled and when the pistol fired resulted in a bullet fatally striking Boushie in the back of the head.Reporters crowded into two rows of benches behind members of Boushie’s and Stanley’s families. The jury filed in. The judge acknowledged the “raw emotion” present throughout the trial and thanked people in the gallery for conducting themselves admirably. The jury foreman proclaimed that the jury was unanimous in its decision: Stanley was not guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Boushie’s mother wailed and other members of Boushie’s family began sobbing. RCMP officers rushed Stanley out of the courthouse.That night, members of Boushie’s family stood on the steps of the courthouse and declared that First Nations people had once again been the victims of a biased justice system. Chief among their complaints was that the jury selection process allowed Stanley to be tried by a jury that included no visibly Indigenous jurors, that the Crown did not communicate sufficiently with the family and that the RCMP did not properly investigate Boushie’s death.As Friday night became Saturday morning, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) held a press conference in Battleford, where chiefs expressed outrage over the jury’s decision.As Starphoenix staff updated stories throughout the night, editors were also working to keep hateful comments off the website and social media.FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron has often said Boushie’s death brought racism in Saskatchewan — once hidden — to light. I tend to avoid reading comments on social media, but I couldn’t ignore the emails that flooded my inbox while I covered the trial. Many commended me for my work, but others were outlets for people to vent.Here are just some snippets of the reader emails sent to me: “This is not racism but good people protecting their property from illegal actions … Stop making this a racial issue. It is young men making bad decisions with consequences. Print that or are you afraid to be called a racist?"“the best thing we could do for the natives is to bulldoze the reserves and put the treaties and the Gladue ruling through a shredder.”“it is commonplace for young (and not so young) Indigenous citizens to break-in, pillage, vandalize, steal, even beat up elderly residents in their own home. It is an ongoing nightmare … Yet nothing is mentioned in the news about this phenomenon. How can we have reconciliation, when the Indigenous are not doing their part?” Nearly every day during the trial, I was asked why the young people who drove onto Stanley’s farm were not charged with attempted theft, assault and drunk driving.RCMP have not answered questions on this, but Stanley’s lawyer, Scott Spencer, said during the trial that the RCMP gave the young people immunity.When cross-examining one of Boushie’s friends who had been interviewed by RCMP after Boushie was shot, Spencer said: “He started the interview, Const. Teniuk, by telling you you essentially didn’t have to worry about being charged, he gave you immunity on anything that was going on. Do you agree with that?”“Yeah,” the witness responded. Despite lobbying from Boushie’s family and the FSIN, the Crown chose not to appeal the case.But the fallout from Boushie’s death is not over.In the months following his acquittal, Stanley appeared in court again to face firearms charges and was fined $3,900 for improper storage of firearms and given a 10-year ban on owning firearms. His lawyer approached various publishers to see if there was any interest in a book told from Stanley’s point of view, but there did not appear to be any.Members of Boushie’s family continue to share their story and lobby for changes to the justice system; some travelled to New York in April 2018 to speak at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.On the second anniversary of Boushie’s death, his family filed a pair of lawsuits: one against the RCMP for how they handled the case, and one against Stanley, for ending Boushie’s life. Neither party has yet filed a statement of defence.Boushie’s death, Stanley’s trial and the conversations those events sparked remain charged issues in the province. Every time I write an article that mentions them, I get emails.I know this time will be no different.Nearly every day during the trial, I was asked why the young people who drove onto Stanley’s farm were not charged
Debbie Baptiste, holding a photograph of her son Colten Boushie, enters the Battleford courthouse in February for Gerald Stanley’s trial in her son’s shooting death.
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