Family of Colten Boushie still pushing for change four years after killer’s acquittal

‘Unfortunately, Indigenous people are still subject to disproportionately high levels of violence at the hands of non-Indigenous people,’ says prof on N2N.

Many may not remember the date Feb. 9, 2018, but it’s a day the family of Colten Boushie will likely never forget.

On that day, a jury acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley of murder and manslaughter after he fatally shot the 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation.

Four years later, with help from academics and advocates, the Boushie family published a series of booklets to help others navigate similar situations.

“Who among us would know even where to start when faced with the sudden death of a loved one like that?” said University of Victoria professor Gina Starblanket on Nation to Nation. “The idea is to be able to empower people but also just to provide people with resources when they really might not even know where to go.”

The resource is called Tools for Indigenous Family Survivors of Violence. The eight booklets offer critical tips on how to navigate the legal system and understand your human rights as victims and survivors.

A group of 10 academics, lawyers and advocates teamed up to write the guides in collaboration with the family. But the idea came from Boushie’s cousin Jade Tootoosis and family members who wanted to share the lessons they learned.

The toolkit includes a booklet on what do if media like N2N and others come knocking. It also includes one on how to interact with police, and that one’s particularly important.

“From the outset of the death of Colten, he, the youth who were present that day and his family were treated like criminals,” explained Starblanket.

In fact, the RCMP’s civilian watchdog recently found Mounties treated Boushie’s mom Debbie Baptiste in a racist, cruel and insensitive manner. When they rolled up to say her son was dead, they asked her if she was drinking and smelled her breath.

Then, assuming she was lying, they checked inside the microwave when she said her son’s dinner was there. Once the probe was opened, the Mounties destroyed thousands of pages of evidence in what the House of Commons denounced as a coverup.

“There’s a reason that the Boushie family argued for an out-of-province trial. Look at the constitution of the jury. It was an all-white jury,” said Starblanket. “Even though race wasn’t mentioned at all in the trial, there was heavily coded language and heavily racialized ideas and narratives that were circulating.”

And despite a recent reckoning with systemic racism in Canada, the last four years haven’t seen profound political or social change that would make toolkits like this obsolete, Starblanket added.

“Unfortunately, Indigenous people are still subject to disproportionately high levels of violence at the hands of non-Indigenous people,” she said, “and so these are resources that continue to be necessary.”

Also on N2N, Canada’s prison watchdog calls for action as Indigenous incarceration rates hit alarming highs, and conditions behind bars hit troubling lows.

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger says it’s reached the point of humanitarian crisis.

“Now, about 32 per cent of the federal prison population are from Indigenous backgrounds. That is very, very problematic,” he said. “This is nothing short of a human rights violation and something the government should do everything they can to try to remedy.”

Plus, nearly a year ago the three federal ministers responsible for Indigenous affairs pledged to root out systemic racism in the public service, but that didn’t stop a class-action lawsuit from being filed.

Lead plaintiff Letitia Wells joined the show to explain why.

“I don’t think that systemic racism is even understood at the federal government level,” she said. “If it was I don’t think this lawsuit would have been launched.”

Watch all three interviews above.

*Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify authorship of the guides. A previous version said Starblanket teamed up with University of Alberta professor Tasha Hubbard to write them.

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