The family of a Saskatchewan man who was shot and killed by a local landowner in 2016 plans to appeal an internal investigation by the RCMP that cleared officers of wrongdoing in how they interacted with them in the wake of his death.
Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed in August 2016 on a rural property near Biggar, Sask. His death ignited racial tensions across the province and landowner Gerald Stanley — who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder — goes on trial in February.
But when seven officers went to Red Pheasant First Nation to inform his mother and siblings of his death, they surrounded and searched the family's trailer.
They were acting on a tip that a possibly armed man had fled the scene of Boushie's death to a trailer looking like that of his family, according to the RCMP.
The family, which filed five complaints to the RCMP, said they were treated as if they were under suspicion and in a "cold and insensitive" manner, according a response letter penned by RCMP Supt. Mike Gibbs.
At one point, according to Gibbs' summary of the accounts provided by Boushie's family and officers, after having been told her son was dead, Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, fell to the floor of her front porch.
After being taken inside the house, she fell again, prompting a male officer to tell her to "get it together" and then ask "'Have you been drinking?'"
'They did nothing'
"They just approached it like [the family] were the culprits of something, like they did something wrong," said Alvin Baptiste, Boushie's uncle.
"They did nothing, they were just innocent people."
In an Oct. 19 letter to the family, RCMP Supt. Mike Gibbs apologized for the officers' actions, conceding they "could have been perceived as insensitive."
But, he went on, "given the safety risks involved," the approach "the RCMP had to take was tactical in nature and in this situation was acceptable."
The letter said all but one of the family's complaints had been dismissed.
One officer, who was quoted in the letter, said the situation on Aug. 22, 2016 was "unique."
"Trying to be sensitive with the next of kin [notification], but at the same time trying to keep the high-risk situation safe, was an extreme challenge," the officer said.
Baptiste said the entire internal investigation was a "cover up," and maintains his sister and her children were mistreated.
"We don't have no rights here. It's like we don't have no rights at all, just sweep us under the rug, kick us under the bus, just move on, forget about what happened. That's how they look at it. Just another Indian," he said.
At a press conference Thursday, RCMP said Boushie's family, if they were not satisfied with the explanations given in the letter, could take the matter up with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
Staff Sgt. Rob Embree refused to say whether or not an apology was issued to Boushie's family members but repeatedly said "actions were taken" when questioned.
In addition, RCMP refused to address the issue of whether there was informed consent to search the home.
In the letter delivered to the family, the RCMP said they had obtained consent from the son of Debbie Baptiste, but the officer "was not sure which son he was speaking to as he gets them mixed up."
The family's lawyer, Chris Murphy, questioned how informed consent can be given by any family member immediately after receiving traumatic news.
Lawyer plans appeal
Murphy said he plans to appeal to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
"There would have been other ways for the RCMP to notify Debbie Baptiste of the death of her son," Murphy said.
Murphy said the search of Baptiste's home was based on "complete speculation" that an armed individual was inside.
"The police [didn't] have any reliable information," he said.
The family also complained about the media release sent out after Boushie's death, which they said made him look like a criminal. The release referred to a "theft investigation" though no theft charges were laid.
"If you are an Indigenous person living in Saskatchewan, how does that make you feel if … you will potentially have your home surrounded and stormed while, at the same time, being notified that the person that you raised has been killed?" Murphy said.
The RCMP upheld one complaint, saying, in the letter, it was "not appropriate" that two officers drove at high speed — in pursuit of a vehicle leaving the scene in Biggar — while someone they had taken into custody was in the back of their cruiser.
The officers told investigators they were in a rush when they got in the vehicle and weren't aware there was a person in the back seat.
The letter says those two officers "received guidance" on safe handling of prisoners.