Members of the Penticton Indian Band are planning a rally at the local courthouse following a jury’s decision to acquit a white man accused of second-degree murder of a young Indigenous man in Saskatchewan.
The acquittal of Gerald Stanley, in the killing of Colten Boushie, set off public discourse over the weekend, with many saying the justice system has failed Canada’s Indigenous population again.
“My uncle was beat to death in Vernon and the sentence for that was three months when I was a child, and this really triggered me,” said Laurie Wilson, a PIB member and legal advocate with the Okanagan Nation Alliance.
Related: Aboriginal politicians seek action after Boushie trial
“There are so many of us who have had this experience with little or no resolution. My family talked about our tragic loss for many years, but there was no explanation for the act of murder, therefore my ultimate conclusion, as a child, was you could be killed because you are an Indian.”
Related: Boushie’s family meets federal ministers after acquittal in murder trial
That sentiment has been shared widely across Canada in the days following Stanley’s verdict, with the hashtag #JusticeForColten still trending as of Monday.
Boushie was shot in the head while he sat in a vehicle on Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask. He and a group had reportedly tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but the driver of the SUV testified they went to Stanley’s property for help with a flat tire.
Stanley, 56, said the fatal shot came after warning shots he fired to scare the group off, as he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition, saying his gun “just went off.”
A firearms expert said there was no evidence the handgun was broken and said a hangfire — a delay in a gun’s shot — was extremely rare and was unlikely ever to last longer than half a second, according to reports from the trial.
“This case makes me feel horrible because my grandson, who is in Grade 11 at Maggie, is asking those questions, and his mom still doesn’t have those answers,” Wilson said.
“Even with my knowledge of the law, even with my life experience, even with my 40-plus years of fighting, my mom’s 60 years and my grandma’s 60 years of fighting, resisting and activism, here we are.”
Wilson also took aim at media coverage of the trial of Raymond Cormier, charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl from Manitoba.
“Why the alcohol level? Why? What does it mean? It so diminishes her,” Wilson said, referring to reports from the trial with headlines indicating Fontaine had alcohol in her system at the time of her death.
Media had been taken to task for that framing — Cormier’s defence had questioned whether drugs or alcohol had killed the girl, but while testifying Fontaine had drugs and alcohol in her system, a toxicologist said there was no evidence that was what killed her.
“The anger and frustration is so high in our communities. Because of our shared experiences, when something like this happens, it happens to us all,” Wilson said. “Then you add the words ‘reconciliation,’ ‘new relationship.’ It is salt in the wound.”
Wilson said a group of PIB members were planning a rally for Sunday, but because of a death in the community it was no longer happening that day. She said rather than cancel the rally, it would likely be postponed, “as tensions are high about this,” but has not provided a plan as of yet.
Meanwhile, Penticton resident Dianne Varga said she was at the courthouse for a couple of hours on Saturday in protest of the verdict, while large rallies were held in several cities across Canada. She was later joined by two more people.
“We’ve had 150 years of racist colonial behaviour and policies in Canada, and this decision of the court now becomes part of the fabric of historical violence perpetrated against Indigenous peoples,” Varga said in a statement.
“We talk a good game about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and the historical past that we share, but we don’t walk the talk.”