Protesters shocked by the acquittal of the man who killed Colten Boushie had tears in their eyes and candles in their hands Monday night as speakers in Fredericton condemned systemic discrimination in the justice system.
Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley in August 2016 at Stanley's farm in Battleford, Sask. The acquittal sent shock waves through the country.
"What has happened here is racism, plain and simple," Matthew Comeau, a member of Elsipogtog First Nation, told a vigil outside Fredericton City Hall. "Racism isn't a man in a white hood anymore, it isn't a burning cross. It's in our systems. It tells us we are not worthy.
Comeau compared being at the vigil to being at a funeral for someone everyone knew.
"It's 2018, who are the savages now?" he asked.
Comeau said his heritage carries a stigma that makes him feel he is a criminal.
"My wife and my son Rylan here don't have the privilege of being light-skinned like me," he said to the large crowd.
Comeau said no one treats him differently until he talks about where he is from.
Boushie was shot in the head during an altercation with Stanley after he and four others from Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley's rural property.
Stanley was charged with second-degree murder in Boushie's death, but was found not guilty on Friday by a jury that included no Indigenous individuals.
The aquittal prompted protests and vigils across the country and calls to eradicate the practice of allowing "peremptory challenges" during the selection of a jury.
Critics say the procedure can lead to discrimination and deliver a jury that is biased or lacks understanding of Indigenous cultural and social customs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott took to Twitter to share their thoughts about the verdict, but speakers at the vigil in Fredericton were not impressed.
"It's easy to tweet," said Kim Jonathan, first vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
"Words are very cheap," said Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay. "Trudeau's promise from his election was justice reform but where is the reform?"
The federal government has indicated it wants to move swiftly on reforms to ensure more Indigenous people are represented on juries, and Wilson-Raybould said Monday changes could be coming soon.