Federal ministers say the country must do better for Indigenous peoples in the Canadian justice system after a Saskatchewan jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of killing Colten Boushie.
Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott both posted on Twitter they want more to be done.
Devastating news tonight for the family & friends of #ColtenBoushie. My thoughts & prayers are with you in your time of grief & pain. We all have more to do to improve justice & fairness for Indigenous Canadians.
Thank you PM @JustinTrudeau. My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do better – I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians. https://t.co/HvjV0bofrQ
Justin Trudeau echoed those statements, offering his condolences to Boushie’s family.
“I’m not going to comment on the process that led to this point today, but I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times,” he told reporters Saturday morning.
“I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better.”
Just spoke with @Puglaas. I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling tonight. Sending love to them from the US.
But some question the ministers speaking publicly on a judicial decision.
“Inappropriate” was the word former justice minister Peter MacKay used to describe the posts.
“It undermines the system of justice, quite frankly, to have politicians weigh in,” he said, adding the case could still be appealed, so they are technically commenting on a case currently before the courts.
Unwarranted skepticism of a properly conducted trial will set a dangerous precedent, MacKay concluded.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Boushie’s death “tragic,” but said the independent judicial process must run its course without political intervention.
“It’s appropriate to show concern and support… for the family of the victim, but I think it is important that we remember that politicians don’t decide these types of things,” Scheer told reporters in Halifax.
He also said that the situation warranted a discussion about challenges faced by young First Nations people.
‘Very rare’ politicians speak up
This outreach from federal politicians is virtually unprecedented, according to Glen Luther, a criminal law expert from the University of Saskatchewan.
“It’s very rare,” he said Saturday. “The federal government is actually taking it seriously.”
Ministers using a specific trial to point to issues in the justice system could provide a much-needed wake-up call, he added.
“It does fall on the federal government to fix that, they’re in charge of the justice system, they’re the ones that can make the reforms.”
Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is anxiously waiting to hear what the government is planning to do.
“Those are positive statements from very high levels,” he said. “They get it, but now we have to see the proof in the pudding … sooner [rather] than later.”
But the shifting tones also caused blowback on social media against Wilson-Raybould, as people interpreted her comments as questioning the proceedings.
“Are the Liberals suggesting that our courts return verdicts that they approve of?” one response said.
“Respectfully, the AG and prime minister should not be commenting on cases, especially such a divisive one,” said another.
However, Luther said it’s more likely the tweets were directed at the system in general, and not meant to criticize the judge or jurors.
Indigenous leaders push for change
Indigenous leaders are pushing for change as well, calling on the federal government to step in when the verdict was handed down Friday evening.
Boushie, 22, and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley’s property on Aug. 9, 2016. After an altercation with Stanley, his son and wife, Boushie was shot in the head.
Prospective Indigenous jurors were rejected by the defence team, according to courtroom observers.