The Current

'Deep grief, and outrage': Family of Colten Boushie shares frustration at justice system in new film

The shooting death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan in 2016 was national news. Now, a new documentary lingers on the perspective of his family, and puts their story in the context of how the Canadian legal system has treated Indigenous people.

Family of Indigenous man shot and killed in 2016 'don't feel like we've been heard'

Colton Boushie, pictured here driving with his mother Debbie Baptiste, died in Saskatchewan in 2016. (NFB)
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Film director Tasha Hubbard remembers the reaction in the courtroom after Gerald Stanley was found not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.

Court officials "responded by grabbing Gerald Stanley and running, like at the top speed, running out of the back of the courthouse," said Hubbard, who was in the courtroom that day.

She told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that she watched "the jury, also in fear, jump up and run out."

In that moment, Boushie's family sat in "deep grief, and outrage," Hubbard said.

"Everyone was stunned ... it felt so unreal, I don't think I've ever experienced anything like it in my life."

Hubbard's film about Boushie's death, titled nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, starts a nationwide tour Thursday in Saskatoon. Last month, it was the opening film at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, where it won the $10,000 prize for best Canadian feature documentary award.

Boushie, 22, and four other young people from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation reserve drove onto Stanley's rural Saskatchewan property in an SUV on Aug. 9, 2016. An altercation occurred between them, Stanley, his son and his wife, resulting in Boushie being shot.

Stanley testified that the handgun he was holding accidentally went off. Expert witnesses testified the pistol was functioning normally and the handgun could only be fired by pulling the trigger.

He was acquitted of second-degree murder on Feb. 9, 2018, reigniting a debate about racism in the Canadian legal system.

Hubbard's documentary examines the impact of Boushie's death on his family, and how the system treats Indigenous people, against the backdrop of centuries of colonialism.

Boushie's cousin Jade Tootoosis wants people who see the film "to understand that the Canadian legal system continues to oppress Indigenous peoples."

Tootoosis grew up close to Boushie. She calls him her brother, someone who "always wanted to help."

One week after the verdict, she travelled with her family to raise their concerns with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ministers in Ottawa.

While they initially felt those meetings were positive, she said that they now "don't feel like we've been heard."

"The initial meetings were us speaking, and telling our story, and our experiences," she said.

"The next step is: what are we going to do about it? And as of this moment, my family and I are still waiting for follow-up from each of the ministers we have met."

Lawyer Eleanore Sunchild, second from left, with Jade Tootoosis on Parliament Hill in Feb. 2018. (CBC News)

She said she wants the government to invite the United Nations to investigate the treatment of Indigenous people by Canada's justice system, as well as firm proposals on how to support those caught up in that system.

"I'd like to hear exactly what they're going to do about addressing the systemic racism, as well as the racism within society ... and the hatred that is spewed online," she said.

People need to have 'the tough conversations'

Following the verdict, the RCMP held community meetings in Saskatchewan to discuss rural crime.

Landowners expressed concerns about the remoteness of their farms, which means police can't reach them quickly in the event of an incident.

Hubbard attended a meeting in Perdue, Sask., with Eleanore Sunchild, one of the Boushie family's lawyers.

During the discussion, a man stood up and said: "Probably 80 per cent of us farmers here would do exactly what Gerald Stanley did."

"There were 10 Indigenous people in a room of 250 people, where those sorts of things are being said ... where people are believing that their property is worth more than life," said Hubbard.

The RCMP held a community town hall in Perdue, Sask., on March 8, 2018. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Sunchild told Tremonti that she was sitting beside people who agreed they would "shoot them, just let them come into my yard."

"I said: Hey, look. I'm sitting back here with you. You know I can hear you. Why are you talking like that?" she said.

I want a home where my nieces and my nephews can feel well to play outside, to take a bike ride, to go swimming, to feel comfortable, to feel accepted.- Jade Tootoosis

When the farmers didn't reply, she continued: "I have a son too. If he went into your yard when he got his driver's licence, would you shoot first and ask questions later?"

The farmers told her no, they wouldn't.

"And I said: 'Well then stop talking like that because you're just making the problem worse.' And after that they were quiet," Sunchild said.

"It's those conversations, those tough conversations that people have to have."

Tasha Hubbard's award-winning film, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, starts a nationwide tour Thursday in Saskatoon. (Hot Docs)

Hubbard hopes her film "sparks those difficult conversations," and that people in positions of power will either help to bring about change, or get out of the way.

Tootoosis agreed.

"I want a home where my nieces and my nephews can feel well to play outside, to take a bike ride, to go swimming, to feel comfortable, to feel accepted," she said.

"But most of all, to feel safe."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler.