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Canada After acquittal, family of dead Indigenous man calls for appeal, reforms in Ontario

As the Ontario Crown’s office decides whether to appeal the acquittal of a former military reservist who was found not guilty last month in the shooting death of Jonathan Styres, the Six Nations man’s family is calling for reforms to the “discriminatory” justice system.

Six Nations Elected Chief Ava Hill said she sat down with the Hamilton prosecutors on Tuesday to discuss the appeal process, and was told the decision is now in the province’s hands.

The chief also spoke with Caroline Mulroney, the province’s newly appointed Attorney-General, over the phone on Monday to discuss the community’s concerns about the case.

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“She was telling me that it’s not appropriate for her to comment on it because it is under the review period. But she did indicate that she’s committed to improving the relations between Indigenous people and the criminal-justice system,” Ms. Hill said.

While the minister’s assurances are preliminary, the chief says she is hopeful: “You’ve got to have hope,” she said. “I just wanted to know that the issue is on her radar. And she assured me that it is.”

Mr. Styres, a 29-year-old father of two, was trying to steal a truck out of Peter Khill’s driveway when the Binbrook, Ont., man fired two fatal shotgun blasts into his chest and shoulder on Feb. 4, 2016.

Mr. Khill has never denied that he killed Mr. Styres. But at his two-week trial in Hamilton last month, he testified that he was acting in self defence, applying the training he’d received in the reserves five years earlier. There was a threat, and he needed to “neutralize” it, he said.

The jury’s not-guilty verdict sparked shock and outrage in First Nations communities across the province.

In a statement provided to The Globe and Mail on Monday, Mr. Styres’s family, including his mother, Deborah Hill, said they are calling on the Crown to appeal the verdict.

“We are in disbelief that another Canadian jury has decided that if someone is armed and scared, you are now allowed to shoot and kill Indigenous people without consequence,” they said. “The Canadian justice system has, yet again, failed another Indigenous family by continuing with the injustice and making no effort to change it.”

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The province has 30 days following an acquittal to launch an appeal, which means a decision can be expected by the end of this month. Brian Gray, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney-General, said the Crown’s office had not yet reached a decision and that it would be inappropriate to comment in the interim.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Mr. Khill had been asleep when he and his girlfriend woke to the sounds of someone in the driveway outside their rural Hamilton-area home around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016. Looking out the window, he realized someone was breaking into his truck.

He grabbed his shotgun out of his bedroom closet, loaded it and went outside. There, he saw a man leaning into the passenger side of the pickup.

“Hey, hands up,” he said he yelled. When Mr. Styres turned toward him, arms rising, Mr. Khill fired. Mr. Styres died almost instantly, his body lying face-up in the muddy driveway next to the truck.

The case has been compared to the trial of Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan man whose acquittal in the fatal shooting of Colten Boushie, a Cree man, on his farm, sparked outrage in February. In that case, Mr. Stanley’s defence team had argued that the shooting was accidental; the result of a fluke “hangfire.”

In their statement on Monday, the Styres family called on the provincial and federal government “to implement actions reflecting the Truth and Reconciliation Report … addressing systemic discrimination within the Canadian Judicial System.”

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The Hamilton Crown’s office referred questions to the Ministry of the Attorney General on Tuesday. Defence lawyer Jeff Manishen declined to comment.

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