Trudeau promises family of Colten Boushie to ‘fix the system’
Trudeau says he wasn’t commenting on “specifics” of the trial in the death of Colten Boushie. “We understand that there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system that we must address.”
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OTTAWA— The family of a slain young Cree man met with Trudeau government ministers on Monday and afterward issued a quiet but forceful call for change, saying reforms to jury-selection rules in the wake of his killer’s acquittal are one “quick fix.”
Hours later, it appeared their voices and the voices of hundreds of supporters had been heard at the highest level.
“We have a problem. We have much we need to do together to fix the system in the spirit of reconciliation. That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons.
After weekend demonstrations of outrage in the face of a jury’s decision to acquit Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in the 2016 death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, Trudeau said changes are afoot.
Trudeau extended sympathy to the young man’s family as he did Friday on Twitter and defended his comments, saying it would be “completely inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case.”
But, he said, “we understand that there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system that we must address. We are committed to broad-based reform to address these issues.
“As a country, we must and we can do better.”
In response to NDP demands for “concrete steps” to address the issue, Trudeau agreed that the overrepresentation of Indigenous persons in Canada’s prisons and their underrepresentation on juries and in jury-selection pools is a significant problem and said his government would address it.
When the NDP asked if the Liberals would target jury-selection rules in the Criminal Code, which now allow an accused’s legal team to reject a potential juror with no explanation — this is called a peremptory challenge — the justice minister said this will be included in changes under consideration in broader-based reform of criminal justice.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, will meet with Colten Boushie’s family Tuesday, promised she will engage with the Commons justice committee on proposed reforms.
The slain youth’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, cousin Jade Tootoosis and uncle Alvin Baptiste, along with family lawyer Chris Murphy, met Monday morning with Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott, the cabinet ministers responsible for the federal government’s dealings with Indigenous people.
Boushie’s family said they did not seek an appeal of the jury’s acquittal of Gerald Stanley on Friday, a decision that Murphy said is up to the attorney general of Saskatchewan.
But, they said, they came to build relationships with “people who can make a difference.”
“It’s Monday, and the verdict went out on Friday, so we have little to no faith in the justice system and we’re here to talk about that and figure out ways to address that,” Tootoosis said.
Murphy said reforms must be made to Canada’s long-standing jury-selection process.
A 2013 review of Ontario’s system recommended changes. It noted that, depending on the type of crime being tried, both the Crown and defence are given between four and 20 “peremptory challenges,” meaning that a corresponding number of prospective jurors can be asked to stand aside without counsel being obliged to provide a reason.
“That’s an issue that is a quick legislative fix,” Murphy said.
He said an accused person and a potential juror summoned for jury-pool selection “literally” eyeball each other for three seconds before a juror can be dismissed.
“If you’re an Indigenous person watching this process, what are you to think? What is this decision based on?” he asked. “Of course, everybody wants an impartial jury. But there are a lot better ways to determine partiality or bias than looking at a person’s skin.”
“So let’s change it. It’s an easy fix.”
“Yes!” interjected Debbie Baptiste at a news conference on Parliament Hill.
Asked if jury reform is the Boushie family’s top priority, Tootoosis said “it is one of the things” the family wants changed.
Boushie’s mother, when asked what justice for her son would look like, said it “would be change into the justice system. It would also be a change that the government just talks about racial issues, and that, somehow, Canada could come together, all its people could come together, and realize we’re all human being(s).”
She spoke of the need to “break those barriers where we no longer go with the dark skin, the white skin.”
“We’re not in a rush, because we want things done right and in a good way,” said Tootoosis, as Boushie’s mother again spoke up, saying, “Yes!”
“As a family, we want to be a part of this process, so that these injustices are addressed, and that we feel justice for our brother, for our son, for our nephew.”
Asked what difference having an Indigneous person on the jury would have made to the family, and to the outcome of the trial, Tootoosis spoke of “the justice that we were denied through this process.”
“It may have (changed the outcome), but we’ll never know,” she said.
Philpott, the minister of Indigenous services, said Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for the ministers to “express our concern and empathy for them as a family and what they’ve gone through.”
Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, said the concerns are not only centred on the verdict, but “the way this family was made to feel through the process.”
She said the family was made to feel as though they were the cause (of the incident), not the victims.
“They want concrete measures to make sure this doesn’t happen to other families,” Bennett said.
“There’s been lots of reports in the past about jury selection, about the presence of Indigenous people on juries,” Bennett said.
Asked whether their statements could prejudice any further legal proceedings, Bennett said her concerns about justice for Indigenous peoples have been voiced before, notably in the hearings around the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.