Senator calls for changes to criminal code after outrage over Colten Boushie case

An Indigenous senator says he intends to lobby lawmakers in Ottawa for concrete changes to the criminal code after a Saskatchewan farmer was found not-guilty in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man.

Senator Murray Sinclair made remarks Monday at launch event for healing forest in Winnipeg

Senator Murray Sinclair says he intends to head back to Ottawa to lobby for changes to the justice system after outrage spread across Canada over the verdict in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

An Indigenous senator says he intends to lobby lawmakers in Ottawa for concrete changes to the criminal code after a Saskatchewan farmer was found not-guilty in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man.

Senator Murray Sinclair made the comments Monday at a launch event for a healing forest honouring residential school survivors in Winnipeg, as emotions continue to run high after the not-guilty verdict in Gerald Stanley's trial for killing Colten Boushie.

Sinclair is a former Manitoba judge who served as a co-commissioner on the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and was the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

"There are laws that can be changed and the laws that contributed to this need to be reviewed," said Sinclair, a former Manitoba provincial court judge. "[After the verdict] I believe that others will see the importance of it. And to take advantage of that by putting forward some remedies that will be acceptable now."

Organizers behind the forest, a living memorial to Indigenous children lost to or affected by the residential school system, say it will be a place of peace and contemplation where people of all generations can remember the past and envision the future.

But on Monday, peace seemed a long way off.

"I don't think that any of us expected to be meeting at a time like this, where the injustices would be thrown so squarely into our faces once again, of how fundamentally unfair this society can be and how fundamentally dangerous this society can be for Indigenous people," said Kevin Lamoureux of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Colten Boushie was shot and killed on a farm in Saskatchewan in August 2017. (Facebook)

On Friday, a Saskatchewan jury found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 22-year-old Boushie. The verdict led to an outcry of shock, anger and sadness across the country and rallies in many cities.

To avoid a similar result in other trials, Sinclair said politicians need to review provisions in the criminal code relating to peremptory challenges, and also look at individual provinces' jury processes.

"The jury selection process [was a problem], both in terms of how people were called and how they were not assisted with how to get to the place of the trial."

"The other issue … which was also preeminent in this trial was [the laywers] abused their peremptory challenge."

Peremptory challenge allows lawyers to prevent a juror from serving on a jury, with no explanation needed. This allows lawyers to unfairly avoid people they may not want on a jury, he said.

"So, lawyers can remove all women from a sexual assault trial, for example, through their use of peremptory challenge and we need to be careful of that."
This sketch shows the proposed design of the healing forest and learning space. (Submitted by Kyle Mason)

Need for healing

As Winnipeg prepares for the first steps in establishing its healing forest — the second such place in Canada — it's not just about those impacted by residential schools and their families, Lamoureux said, but "how deep there is a need for healing in the rest of Canada as well."

He talked about the jurors in the Boushie case and the authors of "awful messages spewed across social media" about Boushie as people in need of healing.

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      The forest, which will be in the northeast corner of St. John's Park in Winnipeg's North End, will be a space for all people to reflect on their own histories but perhaps most importantly, for those who still hold onto hatred and discrimination, Lamoureux said.

      "They're the ones in this moment that need the most healing."

      The forest will be a physical space where people can reflect and be grateful for the reconciliation work that has been done and that which has yet to be done, Lamoureux said.

      Organizers behind the forest, a living memorial to Indigenous children lost to or affected by the residential school system, say it will be a place of peace and contemplation where people of all generations can remember the past and envision the future. 2:08

      "We are going to be OK through this. We are going to survive. We are going to persevere through this."

      Those remarks were echoed by Kyle Mason, a member of the planning group behind the forest and the son of two residential school survivors.

      "Current events only highlight the fact that we still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go," he said.

      Lee Anne Block, one of the planners behind the healing forest, hopes the project is a step towards building trust and truth and healing in the community. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

      "But reconciliation is so important that we cannot give up. Progress never happens in a straight or easy line, it takes twists and turns and has setbacks.

      "But we must continue forward."

      Construction on the forest begins in March with the planting of new trees. It will be formally opened this summer as part of celebrations marking the 125th anniversary of St. John's Park.

      "I know this is a hard time for us and I have a hope that the work we're doing together here on this project is just a step towards building trust and truth and healing in our community," said Lee Anne Block, one of the planners behind the healing forest.

      Canada's first healing forest was opened in Edmonton in November 2016, on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, where there was an existing footpath. Over 1,000 paper hearts were installed with messages of hope and regret.

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      About the Author

      Darren Bernhardt

      Reporter/Editor

      Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

      With files from Elisha Dacey