Opinion

Canadian justice system needs overhaul in light of Gerald Stanley verdict

How can someone get away with lifting a pistol, pulling the trigger and shooting someone in the back of the head, and not go to jail?

There should have been a prison sentence for killing Colten Boushie, says columnist Steve Bonspiel

Colten Boushie, left, was fatally shot in August 2016. Gerald Stanley, right, was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of Boushie. (Facebook/Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

How can someone get away with lifting a pistol, pulling the trigger and shooting someone in the back of the head, and not go to jail?

Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley shot Colten Boushie in the head Aug. 9, 2016, and killed him. Last week he was found not guilty of second-degree murder, sparking outrage and protests across the country.

In many people's minds, Stanley is responsible for Boushie's death and should have been convicted of manslaughter in the very least, but he got off clean because he's a white man who shot an Indigenous youth.

Stanley's defenders say because Boushie was drinking and his friends were attempting to steal, he had every right to shoot, which is a facile justification to shoot Indians with a clear conscience.

You've heard about "hang fire" over the course of the trial – where there's a delayed discharge of the bullet. It was key to the defence's argument the shooting was a freak accident. But a Crown expert witness testified there was nothing wrong with Stanley's gun.

There is still such a long way to go to educate the masses about Indigenous issues, and this one has polarized the debate of "us vs. them," highlighting the huge divide that exists between the original peoples of what became Canada, and the descendants of those who stole the land from our people.

Real reconciliation has to start with being honest and truthful.

The younger generations need to learn that while our lands are ravaged every day in the name of resource extraction and money, our communities are still waiting for that so-called reconciliation everyone loves to talk about. Make sure it sinks in real well that the prosperity farmers like Gerald Stanley receive from lucrative stolen land comes off of the backs of our ancestors.

We're not that far removed from a time when Indigenous Peoples had to get permission from the Indian Agent to visit a friend in another community, to have a drink, to hold public meetings on reserve. People point to residential schools and they are right, it was horrific and unjust, and we carry that with us. But, sadly, that's only a small part of our tumultuous dealings with Europeans, and it continues today.

Why do people feel it's OK to dismiss us as irrelevant when it is the very land they live on — our land — which enables their lifestyle and their communities, while we suffer and our people die?

You killed Colten Boushie, Gerald Stanley, and you deserve to go to prison for it, no matter what you say about the gun accidentally going off.

Were Boushie's friends wrong to drive drunk, to attempt to steal an ATV, to do some of the things they did that day? Sure, but that shouldn't mean you can just kill one of them and get away with it.

Accidental or not, using a firearm that results in the death of another man should be open and shut.

Protests were held in many cities, including in Saskatoon last Saturday, following the verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Stanley was charged with second-degree murder.

The definition of first-degree murder in this country is when it is planned and deliberate. Under Canadian law, any murder that is not first-degree murder should be considered second-degree murder, which still requires intent.

Alternatively, the jury could have chosen to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The Criminal Code says: "Culpable homicide that otherwise would be murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who committed it did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation."

Sadly, neither of these two options were chosen by the jury.

You know something is terribly wrong in this case when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes plans to meet the family, with the Liberals frantically looking at ways to repair the blatant omissions and obvious holes in juror selection.

The irony is politicians haven't done anything about it before, so why now?

Maybe they're scared our people are finally fed up and the protests against the verdict are only the beginning of a reawakening.

For Indigenous people, our uphill battle for justice and equality in Canada can be broken down with a simple analogy. We're sitting at the poker table with no cards in our hands, hoping to beat a royal flush. Canada is made up of the other nine players at the table, as well as the dealer, the server, and the owner of the establishment, and they have taken the cards away from us long ago, yet continue to ply us with free drinks in an attempt to steal whatever we have left.

With Tina Fontaine's murder trial expected to render a decision in the coming weeks, I hope true justice prevails, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it to happen in a game so heavily stacked against us.

About the Author

Steve Bonspiel

Editor, The Eastern Door

Steve Bonspiel is the editor/publisher of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory’s award-winning weekly newspaper The Eastern Door. He has won numerous provincial and national awards for his articles and editorials. Bonspiel is Mohawk, from Kanesatake, currently based in Kahnawake, Que.