The mother of Colten Boushie says a report by the RCMP watchdog shows just what she experienced after her son’s death in 2016 – and took far longer than it should have.
“It felt like we were swept under the carpet, we were never going to get justice… felt like I was forever fighting, a battle that could never be won,” said Debbie Baptiste at a news conference arranged by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatoon. “The discrimination needs to stop. Things need to change. We need a change for the future, for the generations.
“I refuse for my grandchildren to live in fear. In fear of the RCMP, of the justice system, that doesn’t exist for the Natives. Things need to change now. We’re tired of waiting.”
Boushie, 22, died in August 2016 when an SUV he was riding in went onto Gerald Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask.
After testifying that he had fired a warning shot and the gun “just went off,” a jury acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder.
From the start, concerns were raised about how police handled the investigation. After an early complaint, police had cleared themselves after an internal review. The family then turned to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
The commission outlined several “deficiencies” in the investigation by police, saying that officers treated Boushie’s mother so insensitively when they notified her of his death that it amounted to discrimination.
The commission says officers told Baptiste to “get it together,” questioned whether she had been drinking, smelled her breath and searched her home without permission.
According to the report, “after spending the evening fearing that something had happened to her son and just seeing her worst fears realized, Ms. Baptiste saw her home encircled by a large number of armed police officers and had to endure this treatment from the RCMP members who remained in her home for about 20 minutes,” the commission wrote.
“I did not deserve to be treated the way I was treated,” Baptiste said at the news conference.
It also found two officers inappropriately showed up to Boushie’s wake to update her on the criminal case.
“The racist attitudes and actions of these officers following the death of Colten were a complete departure from the basic principals of policing and deplorable on all accounts,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. “Debbie Baptiste and her family deserve justice. Colten Boushie deserves justice. Our First Nations people deserve justice and policing services that represent and reflect our communities.
“It is our Inherent and Treaty Right to have justice system representatives who serve and protect First Nations communities and interests.”
The commission says the way police notified the public about the shooting caused suffering to the young man’s family because it allowed people to form an inaccurate picture of what happened.
It says an initial press release by RCMP focused mostly on alleged property crimes and failed to mention someone had been arrested for murder in Boushie’s death.
The commission says Boushie didn’t leave the vehicle or touch any of the belongings on Stanley’s farm.
Despite issuing other releases updating the public about the progress of the investigation, the watchdog concluded RCMP communications gave the public piecemeal information, fuelling racial tensions online and in the community.
At one point, former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall called for calm after a deluge of racist and hate-filled messages were posted online about Boushie’s death.
The commission also found RCMP didn’t properly protect the SUV Boushie had been riding in, resulting in the loss of blood spatter and other evidence.
“It is not known, and will never be known, what difference this evidence, as well as any other evidence lost as a result of the failure to protect the vehicle, could have had on the outcome of the case,” it wrote.
The National Police Federation representing front-line officers took issue with the finding of discrimination, and said the review showed police generally carried out a professional investigation.
“For the RCMP to clear themselves on no wrongdoing, shows the injustice that continues, that needs to change,” Baptiste said.
In the House of Commons Monday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh pushed the government on when changes to the justice system are coming.
“A year ago, the prime minister took a knee at a Black Lives Matter protest but has yet to take any action,” Singh said. “People are fed up with the prime minister’s symbolic gestures. When will the prime minister take concrete action to end systemic racism in the RCMP?”
While the question was directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it was Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the political overseer of the RCMP, who took the question.
“I have spoken to the commissioner of the RCMP. She has accepted all of the recommendations, and we will work very closely with her to ensure a full implementation to address the deficiencies in the police response identified by the complaints review,” said Blair.
Baptiste said her son was not a criminal and that it’s time for people to stand up.
“I would like to thank all the people that prayed for us throughout this journey. If Colten could hear me now, he’d be proud that we continued fighting and never gave up,” Baptiste said.
“Anyone whose been treated like this, with injustice, you stand up and say ‘no.’”
With files from the Canadian Press