RCMP showed ‘racist’ attitudes, lawyer says
The public needs to know how Saskatchewan RCMP treated Colten Boushie’s family the night the 22-year-old was fatally shot, a friend of the family says.
“If the RCMP can treat these indigenous people in such a racist way, it gives others permission to do the same,” said Eleanore Sunchild, a criminal lawyer in North Battleford who has been personally supporting the family but does not legally represent them.
The Globe and Mail reported on Friday allegations from Colten’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, and her son William, that when officers arrived to notify her of Colten’s death, they entered and “rummaged” through her home without asking permission. According to the report, the officers disturbed two young children in the home.
After a few minutes an officer tried to force a tearful Baptiste to her feet.
“He grabbed my wrist right here and he said ‘Ma’am, get yourself together.’ And I told him, ‘No,’ ” Baptiste told the Globe. As Baptiste struggled to her feet, an officer asked her if she was drunk. Brothers William and Jace said the officers also asked them if they had been drinking, according to the Globe. William and Jace said none of them had been drinking.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Climenhaga said the reports are “concerning” and that RCMP couldn’t provide further comment as the matter is before the courts. Full details will be released through that process, he said.
Sunchild said she was aware of the family’s concerns before reading The Globe and Mail’s story. The case brings to light the disparity in how the justice system has treated native and non-native people since colonization, she said.
“If it were a non-native family whose son was killed, do you think they would have treated them the same way? Searching their house, smelling their breath, telling a distraught mother to pull herself together? No, I think they would be treated with respect and dignity. But that was not the case here.”
Gerald Stanley, the 54-year-old man charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 9 shooting of Boushie on his rural property near Biggar, was released from custody on Aug. 19 after posting a $10,000 cash bail and placed on several restrictions.
According to Boushie’s uncle, Alvin Baptiste, Boushie and four friends had been swimming and drinking nearby on Aug. 9 and pulled onto Stanley’s property after they experienced car trouble on their way home to the Red Pheasant First Nation. Following a confrontation, Boushie was shot while still in the car. He was declared dead at the scene.
Baptiste said in an interview soon after the shooting that Boushie and the four others were unarmed when he was killed. According to RCMP in a news release the day Boushie died, five people in a vehicle drove onto private property “and were confronted by property owners who were outside and witnessed their arrival. The occupants of the vehicle were not known to the property owners.” Police said “a verbal exchange” took place as the owners attempted to get the people in the vehicle to leave the yard. “Ultimately a firearm was discharged, striking an occupant in the vehicle,” the release stated.
RCMP said the people in the car with Boushie were taken into custody as part of a related theft investigation, but no charges have been laid. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has publicly criticized the RCMP for the way it presented the shooting in a news release the day after the incident and has called the shooting a “crime based on race.”
Those supporting Boushie say unequivocally his shooting was racially motivated and that if the car was filled with Caucasian occupants, there would have been no such incident. Those completely behind Stanley say Boushie and the four others were trespassers and up to no good, and that Stanley was defending himself on his relatively remote farmyard.
Boushie’s shooting death and the subsequent arrest of Stanley unleashed a torrent of hatred and racism online that previously was mostly uttered only in private conversations. It got so bad in the immediate aftermath, Premier Brad Wall issued a public plea urging people to stop.
Sabrina Peyachew, a councillor with Red Pheasant Cree Nation and Colten’s aunt, said she can’t reconcile the boy she knew with the situation he appears to have found himself in moments before his death.
He was a happy-go-lucky and hardworking person who didn’t look for trouble, she said. It could have been a case of him hanging around with the wrong people at the wrong time, she added.
“I can’t see him being that kind of a person.”
She was also surprised by how police allegedly “mistreated” the family, she said. She questioned why they would have to search the home, as if the family had done something wrong.
“I would have expected them to actually be more comforting,” she said.