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Vicky Mochama: Saskatchewan stumbled with show of force after Colten Boushie's death

Rather than extending compassion and grace, the province’s decision only increases the probability of harm.

Colten Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste.


Colten Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste.

A day after her son’s killer was found not guilty by an all-white jury, Colten Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste spoke to a crowd in North Battleford, Sask.

She said, “The justice system needs to stop locking up our youths. All of our loved ones are in jail. White people — they run the court system. Enough. We’re going to fight back.”

Baptiste’s determination to break through her grief and into action is moving. It should inspire everyone to challenge a system that is still trying to break Indigenous people.

That system did not wait for a verdict before it acted.

Last summer, in the midst — indeed, at the crescendo — of tension over Boushie’s death, the province’s justice ministry unveiled a $5.9-million “Protection And Response Team,” which will deploy 258 armed officers, including 30 police, to rural areas. Despite several recommendations from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the province’s Sask. Party decided on a law-and-order approach that nominally targets “rural crime” but in reality, targets Indigenous people. As Douglas Cuthand wrote at the time, “In Saskatchewan ‘rural crime’ is a dog whistle term that means aboriginal people.”

What they’ve got instead is a show of force that will not only put more Indigenous youth in prisons — where they’re already incredibly overrepresented, at 35 per cent of the total youth prison population — but will also, chillingly, put them in regular contact with officers carrying guns just as Gerald Stanley’s acquittal has sent the message that it’s now open season on Indigenous people. The risk is deadly.

If a farmer like Stanley has no legal need of a handgun, it’s not clear to me why a conservation officer needs a weapon. If a government can find money for arming its employees but little to none for giving its most vulnerable citizens what they’ve asked for, then the danger is clear and present.

There was and still is a better way forward.

Giving Indigenous communities control of their justice and policing gives youth a much-needed chance to break the cycle of criminalization. Understanding cultural circumstances — from intentional and systematic deprivation to residential schools to experiences with the child welfare system — would give the courts a way to break their own biases.

Rather than extending compassion and grace, the province’s decision only increases the probability of harm.

If another young Indigenous person does what all young people do, then there will be another Colten Boushie. One is already too many.

In the words of Debbie Baptiste, “Enough. We’re going to fight back.”

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