Courthouse campout protester says bring him your 'hard, ignorant, racist' questions about Indigenous justice

Motivated by the high-profile acquittals of men accused of murdering two Indigenous young people, Garret Smith has set up in a tent in the park across from the Calgary courthouse and has no plans to leave.

Garret Smith says he will camp outside the Calgary Court Centre until he's kicked out

Garret Smith stands outside the tent he is sleeping in across the street from the Calgary Courts Centre. Smith is protesting the inequalities in the justice system involving Indigenous people. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Motivated by the high-profile acquittals of men accused of murdering two Indigenous young people, Garret Smith has set up in a tent in the park across from the Calgary courthouse and has no plans to leave.

The set-up includes a wood stove, an air mattress and many blankets. He began sleeping in the tent Sunday night when temperatures dipped below -15 C. 

"Things need to change," said Smith, an actor who says he has enough flexibility with his job to spend time bringing attention to inequalities within the justice system.

"Calgary, in my personal opinion, is one of the most racist areas that I grew up in, I experienced a lot of prejudice here."

Two recent verdicts involving the deaths of young First Nations people sparked protests across the country, calling for change.

Last week, Raymond Cormier, 56, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine.

Fontaine was a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who had been in provincial care. Her body was found in Winnipeg's Red River, wrapped in a blanket and weighed down with rocks. 

Earlier this month, Gerald Stanley was acquitted by a jury of second-degree murder in the death of Colton Boushie, 22, who was shot in the head. 

"The changes that we want to happen for Indigenous justice within this government, within this justice system, they're slow," said Smith.

Garret Smith began sleeping in a tent outside the Calgary courthouse on Sunday night. The tent was donated by someone who used it at the Dakota Access pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The hardy white tent was previously used at the pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, so Smith says it has "a bit of a history in terms of standing up for Aboriginal rights." 

A steady stream of supporters stop by with words of encouragement, wood and coffee. 

Police came by to check on the set up but Smith says the officers only wanted to make sure he was safe. 

He says he is, but others are not — pointing to the inequalities and over representation of First Nations people in the justice system. Smith says the lack of justice for Indigenous victims is at a tipping point.

"This is a safe place to come and engage in conversation about reconciliation about this idea of coming together as one on this territory," said Smith. "Come ask the hard, ignorant, racist questions here, this is a safe place to actually understand each other."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.