Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Today, I rise to offer my deepest sympathies to the family of Colten Boushie, a young man from the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan. In August 2016, Colten was killed by a bullet fired into the back of his head by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer. Stanley’s lawyer argued that the gunshot was accidental and that the gun delivered a hang fire, a rare possibility. Stanley was acquitted on Friday, February 9. The Stanley trial occurred amidst a strong undercurrent of racism against indigenous people in Saskatchewan. This was abundantly evident last year by the racist comments about First Nations people posted on social media after the shooting. They were so vile and racist that our premier felt the need to step up and urge people to stop doing so. Now, the social media comments from some of the Stanley supporters are truly frightening.
Across Canada, the not guilty verdict reverberated. Many Canadians were shocked at the apparent failure of the justice system. People have been shocked by the virulent racism exhibited by some Saskatchewan citizens. And, yet again, indigenous people have been denied justice by systemic racism.
The day after the verdict, rallies were held in many cities across Canada to support the family and call for justice. In Saskatoon, there were about a thousand or more supporters, indigenous and settler, calling for “Justice for Colten!”
Questions are being raised about the fairness of having an all-white jury under the circumstances. Colleagues, during the jury-selection process, potential jurors who were visibly indigenous were deliberately excluded by peremptory challenge by Stanley’s lawyer. As a result, the jury was all white. While this is legally permissible, many have questioned whether it should be, particularly when it is well known that Saskatchewan has a high level of racism towards indigenous people.
Furthermore, the existence of peremptory challenges ignores the 150 years of damage that our colonial system of justice has specifically wreaked upon indigenous people. Decades ago, this practice of peremptory challenge was identified as a major problem for indigenous people in Manitoba.
Furthermore, decades ago, the U.K. enacted legislation to end this practice.
Indigenous and other Canadians want our laws to be fair to all of us. Reconciliation is not possible as long as personal bias and racism are so obviously embedded in our jury system. Challenges to a jury selection should be for justified reasons and not for personal biases or racism against indigenous candidates.
Enough is enough. Canada is delinquent in taking the matter of peremptory challenges seriously. The Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, must move immediately to set in motion real actions to end the current practice of peremptory challenges. We, the indigenous people of Canada, deserve better.