Human rights lawyers group calls for appeal of verdict in Colten Boushie shooting case
Watchdog also wants independent commission to examine RCMP investigation before Gerald Stanley's trial
A Canadian lawyers organization that promotes human rights at the United Nations has become the latest group to ask the Saskatchewan government to appeal a jury's not-guilty verdict in Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley's trial for murder.
Vancouver-based Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada is also calling for an independent commission to examine everything from the RCMP's treatment of Colten Boushie's family to the way Stanley's two-week trial for Boushie's killing unfolded in the Battleford Court of Queen's Bench.
"The acquittal of Gerald Stanley for the shooting death of Colten Boushie appears to signal a failure of the criminal law system to ensure equal and non-discriminatory protection of rights," the group said in its letter to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice.
The requests come a week and a half before the province's public prosecutions office must decide whether to launch an appeal of Stanley's Feb. 9 acquittal.
No appeal filed yet
As of Wednesday, no such appeal had been filed in the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan.
No decision about an appeal had been made either, according to the ministry.
"We're not intending to criticize any of the individual players here," said Gail Davidson, the executive director of Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada. "I don't know whether an inquiry would find any irregularities, errors or omissions.
"But that has to be looked at."
Davidson says the public outcry following Stanley's not-guilty verdict demands it.
- 'Deep disappointment' expressed in wake of Stanley verdict
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"I think it's a very serious thing for the government when there's such a obvious display of loss of confidence in the legal system," she said.
The Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association has already hit back at what it called "unfair and unwarranted" public criticism of the judge, lawyers and jury involved in Stanley's trial.
The use of peremptory challenges — which allows lawyers to challenge a potential jury candidate without having to explain why — also came under fire during the trial.
- Stanley trial exposes problems with jury selection, say legal experts
- 'Deck is stacked against us,' says family of Colten Boushie after jury chosen for Gerald Stanley trial
Whether errors were made during the trial is for an appeal to decide, said association president Nicholas J. Stooshinoff in a statement issued two weeks ago.
"There are those that strongly support the verdict and those that strongly oppose the verdict," Stooshinoff wrote in the statement.
"But the STLA urges all citizens to refrain from unfair accusations about the participants in the trial and to recognize that all did their best in fulfilling their oath and duty to society."
Stooshinoff could not be reached for comment about Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada's request for an appeal.
Crown lawyer shouldn't handle appeal: group
Boushie's family, the Assembly of First Nations and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs have also called for an appeal.
Davidson said if an appeal is launched, it should be handled by a prosecutor who does not work for the Crown.
She said a similarly independent commission should examine and make recommendations on:
- The RCMP's response to, and investigation of, Boushie's death.
- Potential "irregularities, errors and omissions" during the trial.
- The use of peremptory challenges.
- "The extent to which discrimination against Indigenous people determined any aspect of the conduct of the investigation, prosecution and/or trial."
The Boushie family has claimed it was treated in a "cold and insensitive" manner when the RCMP came to the Boushie home to tell Debbie Baptiste, Colten Boushie's mother, that her son was dead.
The RCMP has internally cleared itself of improper conduct, a decision the Boushie family is appealing.
Davidson said even the perception of improper conduct at that early stage should have spurred the steps her group is now calling for.
"That triggered, in international law, the duty of the Government of Saskatchewan to step in and take special measures to ensure that the rest of the investigation, and … the prosecution and trial, would be conducted carefully to avoid those kinds of serous errors."
The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment on the group's request while a decision on an appeal is pending.