Saskatoon

'I live a nightmare': Colten Boushie's mother still struggling 1 year after his fatal shooting

The mother of Colten Boushie says she's still overwhelmed by sadness and anger as she replays the evening of his death over and over in her mind.

Debbie Baptiste still overcome with sadness, anger as family set to mark anniversary with traditional feast

Debbie Baptiste is finding healing difficult one year after her son, Colten Boushie, was fatally shot. She now cares for his pet Chihuahua, Chico. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Debbie Baptiste carries a photo of Colten Boushie in a tattered journal everywhere she goes, but that's not her only reminder of her dead son.

During a recent interview with CBC News, a three-year-old Chihuahua sat on Baptiste's lap. "Chico" was Boushie's best friend before Boushie was fatally shot on a Biggar, Sask.-area farm. Now the dog is hers.

As the one-year anniversary of Boushie's death approaches, Baptiste is having a hard time moving on.

"I live a nightmare," she said, wiping away tears.

"As for my family, we suffer," she said. "We miss Colten. He was supposed to grow old with my other boys and my daughter. He wasn't supposed to die before me. As a mother, my heart's broken every day."

Baptiste and her brother Alvin look through her book filled with mementoes of her late son. (Jason Warick/CBC)

A date was set last week for the second-degree murder trial of Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Boushie. It will begin January 29 in North Battleford, Sask. Stanley, 55, has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail.

'Like it happened yesterday'

Baptiste has spent much of the year holed up in her trailer home on the Red Pheasant Cree First Nation, approximately 140 kilometres west of Saskatoon.

The evening of Aug. 9, 2016, replays over and over in her mind: the fleet of RCMP cruisers surrounding the trailer; hearing Colten was dead; wailing and screaming so loud her throat was raw for weeks; watching officers rummage through her family's belongings, question them and smell their breath as though they were suspects.

"It's like it happened yesterday," Baptiste said.

The case drew national attention, largely due to the torrent of hateful, anti-Indigenous online commentary which followed. Some said the only mistake was that Boushie's friends were not killed along with him that day.

Boushie, 22, was fatally shot Aug. 9, 2016, on a Biggar, Sask.-area farm. (Facebook)

Many said the situation was inflamed by a "victim-blaming" news release by RCMP. It noted the shooting was linked to a theft investigation, even though no theft charges were laid.

Constant reminders

The tone of the messages grew so vile, Premier Brad Wall and other officials pleaded for it to stop. Hundreds turned out for rallies supporting Boushie's family during Stanley's bail hearing and preliminary hearing.

Baptiste said she appreciates "everybody's condolences, their prayers and their words of strength," but the constant reminders and public appearances are exhausting.

A few weeks ago, Baptiste's family decided they had to do something for her.

Her brother, Alvin Baptiste, convinced her to move out of the trailer on the reserve and into the nearby city of North Battleford. Red Pheasant is her home, but he felt she needed a new environment, at least for a while.

Baptiste now has a weekly appointment with a grief counsellor. She and Chico regularly drop by Alvin's house to visit with him and his family. She goes to the library every day, signing out a mix of heavy and light reading.

"I just got one on treaty history, and a romance novel," she said with a laugh.

'Our blood is the same colour'

But Baptiste and her family will all be back at Red Pheasant Wednesday. She said everyone with "an open heart" is welcome at the traditional feast the family is hosting to mark the anniversary.

Alvin said he expects a big showing from area First Nations, but hopes to see many non-Indigenous people, as well. They're also welcoming an RCMP officer who asked to attend.

"We're all one family. We all cry the same way. Our blood is all the same colour," Alvin said last week.

The RCMP said in an emailed statement that Boushie's death "reinforced the need for all of us to work together to build stronger, safer communities."

Baptiste is overcome with emotion after she and her family were honoured at a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations health summit in April. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Baptiste has vowed to keep up the fight to reform the justice system. She clings to the belief that Boushie's death will make things better for Indigenous people.

The family started a petition calling for an independent prosecutor and investigator for this case, saying they no longer trust the process. The petition was endorsed last month by the 2,000 delegates at the Assembly of First Nations meetings in Regina.

"This is a long journey that we're going through. This is going to be a battle with the justice system," she said. "I think things are changing. It's about time we speak out and stand up."

CBC News asked Stanley's lawyer, Scott Spencer, if he or his client had any comment one year after the incident.

Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Boushie, leaving North Battleford provincial court on the last day of his preliminary hearing. His second-degree murder trial is set to begin January 29. (Jason Warick/CBC)

"The Stanley family is not granting any interviews or providing statements at this point but, rather, focusing on getting ready for the trial," Spencer said.

Baptiste said she'll try to be strong as the feast nears, but she isn't sure if she can. She's frequently overcome with sadness or anger.

"I pray for strength, pray for forgiveness," she said. "I trust in the Creator, trust in the Lord. It's in his hands."

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