One by one, the prospective jurors stood before the court and were told to look at Gerald Stanley, the man charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Colten Boushie.
Each time a person who appeared to be Indigenous took his or her turn, a single word emanated from the defence bench: challenge. The potential juror then walked slowly back to his or her seat. Whether male or female, young or old, the potential jurors who looked Indigenous were blocked.
The process is not unusual and is integral to jury selection. Both defence and the Crown were given 14 peremptory challenges, which by definition require no justification from either side. Some of the challenges were also used to block middle-aged white men and young women. But the final result, which appeared to be an all-white jury, was precisely what Mr. Boushie's relatives had hoped to avoid and it left them upset.
"It was really difficult to sit there today and watch every single visible Indigenous person be challenged by the defence. It's not surprising, but extremely frustrating," said Jade Tootoosis, Mr. Boushie's cousin, who spoke on behalf of the family on Monday.
Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was shot to death in August, 2016, when a vehicle in which he was a passenger drove onto the farm belonging to Mr. Stanley. The case became a flashpoint in Saskatchewan as the reaction, particularly on social media, inflamed the province's racial divide.
Mr. Stanley pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder on Monday. The trial is being held in Battleford, Sask., about 140 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. It's expected to take between two and three weeks.
Mr. Stanley will be tried by a jury of five men and seven women, plus two alternates, who were selected during a three-hour proceeding. Jury selection was held in Battleford in a large gym normally used as a basketball court. With a few folding tables, a photograph of the Queen propped against the wall and the backboard tucked into the rafters, the basketball court became a court of law.
More than 700 people from across the massive Battlefords district, which runs all the way to the border with the Northwest Territories, were issued summons to appear as part of the jury panel. Approximately 200 showed up in person on Monday morning.
Ms. Tootoosis, 31, arrived so early that she was nearly alone when the first potential jurors began to arrive. As people began to file in, she worried there would be no Indigenous people. Finally, a tall Indigenous man walked through the doors and approached the desk to register as a juror.
Her eyes filled with tears, she said.
"It gave me a sense of hope to see an Indigenous person," she said. "I knew the possibility of him getting [seated on the jury] was slim, but it gave me a bit of hope."
In the end, that potential juror was one of those challenged by the defence.
When Chief Justice Martel Popescul asked whether anyone needed to be excused as potential jurors, a long line quickly formed. About 70 people, roughly a third of those present, pleaded to be let go, citing reasons that ranged from health concerns to holidays they'd already booked. Nearly 50, including about a dozen people who appeared Indigenous, were excused.
After the jurors had sworn their oaths, the judge instructed them to pay attention only to evidence presented in court and not to do research or read about the case in the media. The case has attracted a lot media attention, he said, but as jurors they are required to keep an open mind and arrive at a verdict based only on evidence presented in court and the instructions given by the judge.
Ms. Tootoosis said many of her relatives decided not to attend the jury selection because they thought this outcome was a foregone conclusion.
"Something we feared has come true. I'm unsure how to feel about how the proceedings are going to go from here on out, but we'll continue to be at the court house every day," she said.
The trial will hear opening statements on Tuesday.