No good fixing justice system unless racism in Sask. is tackled, too

The death of Colten Boushie has become a watershed event and we can only hope that things change from legal and societal perspective.

Colten Boushie's death illuminates Indigenous-settler friction and rural-urban divide

An attendee at a Calgary rally holds a sign in support of Colten Boushie's family. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Last Friday night I was blindsided by the not-guilty verdict delivered by a visibly non-Indigenous jury in the trial of Gerald Stanley for the death of Colten Boushie.

Many thought there would be a verdict of manslaughter and they were caught flatfooted when the verdict was not guilty on all counts. I thought of the family, the supporters, the spirit of a dead young man — and it occurred to me that now we can kiss reconciliation goodbye.

On Saturday I went down to the Saskatoon courthouse, where a crowd of well over a thousand supporters had gathered to rally for change in the justice system and ultimately justice for Boushie.

Much has been said about the two solitudes of Indigenous people and settlers, but Saskatchewan also has a rural urban divide that is reflected in incidents of racism.

The Battleford, Sask., area has a long history of racism and friction between the First Nations population and settlers. There is a great deal of mistrust and fear between the two groups.

White people fear Indigenous people mostly because they are unknown to them. Fear of the unknown is a very powerful emotion that clouds people's thinking and reinforces stereotypes.
An aerial view of Gerald Stanley's farm taken by RCMP. (RCMP)

The image of rural Saskatchewan is changing. The settler population is in decline; people are moving away and selling their farms. The next generation is not taking over the farm that may have been in the family for three or four generations.

On the other hand, the Indigenous population is on the rise. It is the most rapidly growing group in Canada. The on-reserve population is growing, while farms are becoming fewer and farther apart. A fortress mentality is taking over, as it did in the tragic case of Boushie.

The acquittal of Stanley has been met with disbelief and anger. The Battlefords area now looks like the Mississippi of the north.

One of dozens of rally's in support of Colten Boushie's family took place across the country, this one in Vancouver. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

There has been talk of change in the justice system. But what kind of change? There are two streams in this discussion: legal and attitudinal.

On the legal front there have to be changes in the jury selection process. In the Stanley trial, the Boushie family said that all of the Indigenous-looking jury candidates who were selected from the jury pool were challenged by the defence team, and excluded. The jury selection process should be altered to eliminate the right of lawyers to challenge jurors without stating a reason.

But it's not going to do any good to tinker with the justice system unless the racism that is rampant in this province is eliminated.

This story is definitely not over.

This has become a watershed event and we can only hope that things change from legal and societal perspective.


Doug Cuthand is an Indigenous affairs columnist, freelance journalist and filmmaker who lives in Saskatoon. He is a member of the Little Pine First Nation, Sask.