Colten Boushie's mother met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday and emerged optimistic that the Liberal government will address the concerns she raised about the judicial process that ended in an acquittal for the man accused of killing her son.
Debbie Baptiste, Mr. Boushie's mother, said the Prime Minister expressed his sympathy to her and told her he believes things need to change, and that her son's death was not in vain.
Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, was fatally shot in August, 2016, after a car in which he was a passenger drove onto a property belonging to Gerald Stanley, a white farmer. On Friday, a jury in Saskatchewan acquitted Mr. Stanley of second-degree murder in Mr. Boushie's death. The verdict sent shock waves across the country and sparked demonstrations in many Canadian cities.
Ms. Baptiste and her family called the verdict a miscarriage of justice. But within hours, their anger was transformed into a determination to seek political change. They flew to Ottawa on Sunday night, and by Tuesday had met with the Prime Minister and four members of cabinet.
The jury that acquitted Mr. Stanley did not include anyone who appeared to be Indigenous. During jury selection, several Indigenous potential jurors were rejected in peremptory challenges from Mr. Stanley's defence team, and as a result many, including Mr. Boushie's family, are now advocating for an end to this practice. Ms. Baptiste said Mr. Trudeau did not discuss any specific legislative changes that are under consideration as a result of the outcry over Mr. Stanley's trial.
"It was a very good meeting," Ms. Baptiste said. "It feels like there's going to be a change, but not right away. Eventually. It's slowly working to try and make change."
Ms. Baptiste said she was unable to sleep last night because she was so anxious about the meeting. She said Mr. Trudeau greeted her by name and embraced her, and when they sat down, she told him about her son and what kind of person he was. And then she told the story of what her family has been through since the night he died.
She said Mr. Trudeau told her: "'Things need to change. Colten's death was not in vain and we will move forward.'
"I said that things for native people have never changed," Ms. Baptiste added.
After the meeting, the Prime Minister said he thanked Ms. Baptiste for sharing her story about the difficulties she faced with police and the justice system.
"They are very much focused on making sure that we have improvements to our system so that no family has to go through the kinds of things they went through," Mr. Trudeau said.
"There's very much a desire to work together on the path of reconciliation, on improving the system that is failing far too many Canadians."
Ms. Baptiste showed the Prime Minister some of the letters she had received, including some from school children on a Saskatchewan reserve. She told him the children are confused about why someone who had acknowledged causing the death of her son was not being sent to prison.
Mr. Boushie's cousin, Jade Tootoosis, and his uncle, Alvin Baptiste, also met on Tuesday with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. The Boushie family complained that the RCMP, which falls under Mr. Goodale's jurisdiction, treated them cavalierly from the moment officers arrived at their door to notify them that Mr. Boushie had been killed. In many ways, they say, the force treated them more like suspects than victims.
Mr. Goodale said the Boushie family has filed a complaint about the RCMP conduct with the force's Civilian Review and Complaints Commission "and it will be reviewed thoroughly by that agency."
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the meeting with the Boushie family resulted in a "very honest, very emotional" exchange of views.
"There were discussions about the need to be compassionate and support victims that find themselves in the criminal justice system," she told reporters. "We talked about the ombudsperson for victims of crime. We also talked about the RCMP, police and other areas that we can continue to have conversations around."
The government said this week is scrutinizing how juries are chosen, including peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to object to potential jurors and have them removed from the jury pool without giving a reason.
"We have to work with the provinces and territories to ensure there are Indigenous peoples that are in the jury pool, how they notify those individuals, why Indigenous communities feel disenfranchised or marginalized away from the system," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said. "All of these considerations need to come into play in terms of what we do."
Relatives of Colten Boushie spoke after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. Cousin Jade Tootoosis said ministers who have sympathized with the family showed they were “human beings.”
The Canadian Press