On February 9, a jury in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, acquitted white farmer Gerald Stanley of the murder of 22-year-old Indigenous man Colten Boushie. According to witnesses, Boushie and three friends had driven onto Stanley’s rural property after a day of drinking. Their SUV got a flat tire, they attempted to steal a truck on a neighbouring farm, but then went to the Stanley property for help. Stanley’s son testified that he and his father heard an ATV start up, and thought it was being stolen; Stanley further told the court that he thought his wife had been run over in the confusion. He went in the house, got a gun, shot it in the air as a warning, then ran up to the SUV and claimed the gun went off accidentally and shot Boushie in the back of the head. The jury agreed, and found Stanley not guilty, to the horror of the courtroom packed with Boushie’s relatives and community.
The verdict was not 24-hours old when the tweets started. “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,” wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Thank you PM @JustinTrudeau,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted, “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.” Then, from Indigenous Service Minister Jane Philpott, “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.”
Emotional words – and sadly, inappropriate ones. Contrast this with the statement U.S. President Barack Obama made after the similarly-charged verdict exonerating Florida man George Zimmerman in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken…I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son…And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.”
The difference is striking. Not once did Trudeau call for calm, despite the protests breaking out all over the country; not once did he defend the system that underpins the very rights and freedoms his own father enshrined in the Charter of Rights. Instead, he pandered to emotion and implicitly questioned the verdict, potentially tainting it from appeal, which would be the actual way to get justice for Boushie, if he believed the jury’s decision was wrong.
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