Justice minister's tweet on Boushie verdict inspired wave of angry emails, letters

Hundreds of Canadians sent emails and letters to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould after she posted a comment to Twitter in the wake of a jury verdict in the death of Colten Boushie. Many accused the minister of political interference after she wrote: "We can and must do better."

Jody Wilson-Raybould was accused of bias, interference after post on Gerald Stanley acquittal

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's tweet in response to the Colten Boushie verdict prompted a flurry of negative responses from Canadians to her office. (Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand)

Hundreds of Canadians sent messages to the office of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould after the minister posted a comment on Twitter about the second degree murder trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley.

In February, a jury found Stanley not guilty in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man. Stanley shot Boushie after he and a group of other young people drove onto his farm near Biggar, Sask.

Soon after the verdict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his grief and sorrow to Boushie's family on Twitter.

Wilson-Raybould put out a tweet of her own.

"Thank you, Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau, My thoughts are with the family of Colten Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices.

"As a country we can and must do better — I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians."

That message prompted a flurry of responses from Canadians to Wilson-Raybould's office. CBC News has obtained more than 500 pages of correspondence through the access to information law.

Almost all of those messages are negative in tone and content, with many writers angrily accusing the minister of undermining the judicial system.

"Your tweet 'feeling their pain' and commenting that 'our country can do better' is inappropriate and serves to undermine the difficult decisions that the jurors faced," wrote one person.

"Tweets like yours (as we see from the President of the U.S.) do nothing to advance an agenda or drive peace in our great country."

'How dare you?'

"How dare you interfere with the very justice system for which you are responsible?" wrote another.

"Your personal opinion is irrelevant and inappropriately voiced as the 'Minister of Justice'. Surely you comprehend the meaning of 'political interference'."

"You have truly overstepped with your comments on this case," wrote another person who self-identified as a criminal defence lawyer.

"You have put me in the very uncomfortable and unwelcome position of agreeing with the Conservative MPs who have spoken out on this issue."

While criticizing the justice minister and prime minister, many writers expressed sympathy for Gerald Stanley and his family.

"I personally know Gerry Stanley as a law abiding, quiet, even tempered man," wrote one person who said they were from North Battleford, Sask.

"I think he feared for the safety of his family that day. I am sure that he has wished a million times over that he had never taken out his gun that day to scare them off. But I also wonder what would have happened to his family that day if he had not."

"You are blaming the victim for defending himself," another person wrote. "You do not deserve to be Minister of Justice."

The documents released by Justice Canada include some internal departmental communications. Much of it — including an email chain titled "Update:Boushie Correspondence" — is blacked out.

The documents do show the Department of Justice was closely tracking reaction to Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould's Twitter posts. Officials shared media stories and planned answers to reporters' questions. The department also kept a close eye on the House of Commons, where the opposition was grilling the government on its response to the verdict.

Calls for reform

While the letters and emails about the minister's comments on Twitter are overwhelmingly negative, they stand in sharp contrast to other correspondence Wilson-Raybould's office received in the wake of the Stanley verdict. Many of those messages expressed shock over the jury's decision and support for the Boushie family.

CBC News has reported on how the minister received hundreds of messages calling for an appeal and for reform of the jury selection process.

The minister's spokesperson, David Taylor, said Wilson-Raybould's office has received 1,722 letters and emails about the Stanley trial. Of those, 376 were related specifically to the minister's comments.

Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was shot by Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley after Boushie and a group of other young people drove onto Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask. (Facebook)

Taylor said each person who contacted the department will receive a response. In one of the documents released by Justice Canada, one person who wrote is warned that "due to the significant increase in the volume of correspondence, there may be a delay in processing your email."

Taylor provided a written statement to CBC News in which Wilson-Raybould once again defended her Twitter post. 

"My remarks were not a comment on a specific verdict, but rather, meant to speak to the need to do better for Indigenous Canadians involved with the criminal justice system, and to take the necessary steps to prevent them from becoming involved in the system in the first place," the message reads.

'Unprecedented ... and dangerous'

The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers wrote to Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould soon after they posted their Twitter comments, calling them "unprecedented, inappropriate and quite frankly dangerous." Other criminal lawyers also waded in to warn about the perception of political interference in the judicial system.

Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould were not the only federal politicians who used Twitter to comment on the Stanley verdict. 

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott called the jury's decision "devastating news" for Boushie's family.

"My thoughts & prayers are with you in your time of grief & pain. We all have more to do to improve justice & fairness for Indigenous Canadians," Philpott wrote.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was more direct in his post: "There was no justice for Colten Boushie."

Since the verdict, the federal government has introduced reforms to the criminal justice system — among them an end to peremptory challenges in jury selection, which became a flashpoint in the Stanley trial.

About the Author

Tom Parry

Senior Reporter

Tom Parry is a reporter on Parliament Hill for CBC News. He has covered stories for CBC from across Canada and around the world.