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This article was published 12/2/2018 (551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s family is from Red Pheasant First Nation, Sask., the home of Colten Boushie, whose death — and the subsequent acquittal of the man who fired the gun that killed him — sparked nationwide protests over the weekend.
So Ouellette, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, has paid close attention to the trial of Gerald Stanley, the Saskatchewan farmer who was acquitted of second-degree murder in a courtroom in Battleford, Sask., on Friday.
The court heard Stanley fired three shots from a pistol after an SUV containing Boushie, 22, and some friends pulled into his farmyard near Biggar, Sask., the night of Aug. 9, 2016, and that the death was accidental.
Ouellette was concerned about the the all-white jury in the trial. He expressed objections to how the incident was framed in RCMP press releases at the time of the incident in August 2016.
"To be honest, I really wasn’t surprised," the MP said. "I suspected he would probably be acquitted."
Ouellette is now one of the voices — along with Manitoba provincial NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine — calling for a review of the Canadian judicial process.
But Ouellette, unlike many Indigenous leaders, expressed sympathy for whom he believes is another victim in the tragedy: the Stanley family.
"I’m really sorry for the Boushie family," the MP said Sunday. "But I’m also sorry for the Stanley family. I know most people don’t want to hear that right now. (But) the Stanley family, and many farmers in Saskatchewan, have the feeling that their property is not respected and people come on to their farms and steal their stuff.
"The RCMP aren’t responding quick enough to find the perpetrators, to protect their property. It’s essentially become... a lawless state in some ways," Ouellette added.
"I think this calls to us, at the federal level, to ask: ‘are the policing levels in these communities enough to actually make sure we have a society that doesn’t need to resort to violence?’
"The Stanley family was placed in an impossible situation that’s been building up over a long period of time. And they shouldn’t have even had the thought that, ‘I’m going to go get my gun to fire two warning shots.’ That’s not normal. Maybe it’s normal down in Texas or Colorado or other states, but that is not the type of society we want to have here in Canada.
"I feel sorry for them. They’ve essentially lost two years of their lives. They’ve faced legal bills and great difficulty."
As for the Boushie family, Ouellette said: "They lost a young man (Colten) who will not be able to reach his full potential. Have children, contribute to the community. Who knows what he could have done with his life?"
Asked if his empathy for the Stanley family might draw the ire of the Indigenous community, Ouellette replied: "Probably. But the role of a leader is also to look at things with a cool head and try and take a perspective from different vantage points."
Meanwhile, Manitoba provincial justice critic Fontaine said the federal government should look specifically at the make-up of juries in trials involving Indigenous defendants.
"We need to give ourselves a hard look at the justice system in Canada," Fontaine said on Sunday, noting the disproportional percentage of Indigenous populations in federal and provincial jails. "It’s not an easy process... but we have a responsibility to do that. And if there’s an opportunity to do that, it is now. Including the composition of juries."
According to study released in 2016 by Canada’s prison ombudsman, Indigenous people represented more than 25 per cent of inmates while making up just 4.3 per cent of the overall population. And incarceration rates for Indigenous people in some parts of Canada are up to 33 per cent higher than for non-Indigenous peoples.
The Stanley verdict sparked protests across the country, including a gathering of an estimate 500 people at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks on Saturday. A subsequent march to the Law Courts Building on Broadway saw the crowd swell to nearly 1,000.
Fontaine, who attended the Winnipeg ceremony, said the outrage created by the trial registered on "many levels."
"It was pretty devastating to watch unfold, and disheartening," she said. "In many respects, you couldn’t even wrap your head around what you were hearing and what you were seeing. And then when you couple that with witnessing just the heartbreak of the family — in particular as an Indigenous mother myself, raising two Indigenous sons — it certainly struck a very hurtful chord.
"When look at where we supposedly are in this country in respect of reconciliation — and the knowledge and understanding that we’ve gained, and still have to gain, obviously — I was shocked that verdict came down," she added. "I certainly think it will open discussion."
Fontaine said she was encouraged by the number of non-Indigenous Winnipeggers who have been attending protest rallies, and also by responses from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who both tweeted out sympathy and support for the Boushie family.
In a tweet, Wilson-Raybould said to the family "I feel your pain and I hear all your voices. As a country, we can and must do better — I am committed to working every day to ensure justice for all Canadians."
"That typically doesn’t happen," Fontaine noted, adding, "I think that’s an eye-opener for non-Indigenous people. Like, hey, this is what’s going on here. This is what’s happened. We have essentially marked property and more sacred and important than life."
Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.