Hamilton

'Indigenous people don't matter, I guess': friend of shooting victim Jon Styres

A day after Peter Khill was found not guilty of murdering 29-year-old Jon Styres, a First Nations man from Ohsweken, people express how they're feeling.

People in Ohsweken, where Styres was from, express frustration a day after not guilty verdict

Karisa Nanticoke, 29, was a long-time friend of Styres. When she heard of the outcome Wednesday, she didn’t expect the verdict that was handed down. The message here she says, 'Indigenous people don't matter, I guess.' (Laura Clementson/CBC)

It appeared to be business as usual, but the mood was different Thursday in the village of Ohsweken, a village within Six Nations of the Grand River, 35 kilometres southwest of Hamilton.

Among people who spoke with CBC News, there was anger, frustration and a feeling of injustice the day after a jury declared Peter Khill not guilty of murdering 29-year-old Jon Styres, a First Nations man from their village.

No one condoned Styres's attempt to steal Khill's truck in February 2016, but most felt Khill overreacted when he shot and killed Styres in his driveway, admitting during his Superior Court trial to firing two close-range shotgun blasts in his driveway.

Those who followed the trial said they felt let down yet again by the Canadian justice system, which in February found Gerald Stanley, a white farmer of Biggar, Sask., not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

Unfortunately, I think that I have prepared myself for that not guilty verdict.- Tia Schindler, resident of  Ohsweken

The trial in Hamilton was closely watched as comparisons were drawn between the two cases.

Karisa Nanticoke, 29, was a long-time friend of Styres. He even lived with her and her family for a period of time. She hadn't communicated with Styres in the last year of his life, saying he was busy being a father to two daughters. 

When she heard of the outcome Wednesday, she said she hadn't expected the verdict that was handed down.

The message, she said, was "Indigenous people don't matter, I guess. The outcome would be different if it was the other way around. For sure."

"He was still a dad, you know. He was still someone's brother. Still someone's son, and all lives do matter," said Nanticoke.
Family and friends of Jon Styres hug outside court after hearing Khill was found not guilty on June 27. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Not surprised with the verdict

Tia Schindler on the other hand, said she wasn't surprised by the verdict. 

"Unfortunately, I think that I have prepared myself for that not guilty verdict, because a Native person, it's almost something that we have had to deal with our whole life, like the injustice," said Schindler while getting lunch at the Ogwehoweh Skills and Trades Training Centre.

"It's a blaring indication that a material thing is valued over a human life.

"Do I condone stealing? No, I don't, but I don't think it should be punishable by death, and I don't think anybody should have the right to take the law in their own hands," said Schindler.

Shortly after Khill was found not guilty, Ava Hill, the elected leader of the Six Nations of the Grand River, interrupted proceedings at the 44th Annual All Ontario Chiefs Conference, expressing anger and frustration.

"The whole justice system needs to be redone," said Hill. "After the [Colten] Boushie case, the prime minister said they have to do better. What's been done better? Nothing."

Standing on the patio of a Tim Horton's along Chiefswood Road was 45-year-old Rod Miller, who said race played a role in the trial.

There should have been something that shows the country and First Nations people that our lives matter.- Dona Longboat, services supervisor at Community Living Six Nations 

"It's a real injustice, and it really shows that there's racism alive in Canada against Aboriginal people," said Miller.

"We've been living under another nation's laws and we don't have a chance in their court system." 

Justin Williams, 28, said there's a general feeling of anger in the community. 

"It would have been nice if things had changed, because right now everyone's mad. I can see a lot of anger going on. It's pretty bad," said Williams.

Changes to the system

When it comes to changes in the justice system, Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, who's writing a book about the Stanley trial and who followed the Khill trial closely, said there was a difference between the two trials.

In Khill's trial, jurors were asked about racial bias during the selection process, specifically asking if people were racist.

Roach said it was "an improvement," but said there's still a "dramatic underrepresentation of Indigenous people on juries" in Ontario.

The race of the two men didn't come up during any of the evidence heard during the trial, but Khill's defence lawyer, Jeff Manishen did mention it in his closing address to the jury.

He said that it was his opinion that race had nothing to do with the shooting, because it happened in a split second and Khill pulled the trigger in the dark.

When it comes to the future, Manishen said the way this jury was selected could be a model for future cases to ensure the controversy that followed the Boushie case doesn't continue to haunt similar trials.

Dona Longboat, services supervisor at Community Living Six Nations worried about what the verdict means for the future, hoping there are changes to the system.

She said she strongly believes that it was a failure in the justice system.

"Now what does this say to society, to this country, that it's ok," said Longboat.

"There should have been something that shows the country and First Nations people that our lives matter, that we count."

Longboat said she wasn't exactly shocked with the verdict though.

"There is definitely a different value to a Native person's life than a non-Native person's life."

About the Author

Laura Clementson is a journalist with CBC News. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.

With files from Dan Taekema