The RCMP closed roads and raised security inside and outside a Saskatchewan court as a preliminary hearing began for Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused of killing Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who was shot to death last summer.
Police officers were stationed at all the approaches to the North Battleford courthouse and the road adjacent was shut down with police blockades and vehicles with flashing lights. There were also several police officers in uniform and plain clothes inside the courtroom for Monday's proceedings, in addition to the usual court sheriffs.
Many were anticipating a large crowd would gather, as it did last summer for Mr. Stanley's first court appearance, when hundreds protested outside the courthouse. Mr. Stanley is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the killing of Mr. Boushie. The case has carved a sharp divide in the province and exacerbated racial tensions. The comments on social media last summer got so ugly that Premier Brad Wall publicly called for an end to the hate.
Mr. Boushie was in a car with several friends on Aug. 9, 2016 when they drove their vehicle onto Mr. Stanley's property. Mr. Boushie, 22, was shot and killed. The preliminary hearing is being held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a trial.
Alvin Baptiste, Mr. Boushie's uncle, said this case will be a watershed moment for Indigenous people and the justice system. He wants to see justice done for his nephew, and wonders whether that will be possible. "People are watching," Mr. Baptiste said.
About 50 people attended Monday's hearing in North Battleford and an overflow room with a video feed was set up to accommodate those who couldn't be seated in the court.
Mr. Stanley, who was released on bail after his arrest last year, was closely watched by RCMP from the moment he arrived. With a half dozen family members and supporters seated behind him, he listened closely as evidence was presented. He was even escorted by an RCMP officer to the washroom when court adjourned for a few minutes. He left court at day's end with his lawyer, Scott Spencer, carrying a box of documents to Mr. Spencer's Jaguar and placing them in the trunk. As he walked past, one person angrily shouted in his direction. Mr. Stanley did not react.
Mr. Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, sat in court wearing a T-shirt that read "Justice for Colten" and carrying a Bible. At one point, she started sobbing, overcome with emotion, and left for a few minutes to compose herself. She and her sons, William and Jace, and others carried signs outside court demanding justice and asking that people remember Mr. Boushie for how he lived, and not how he died. But the large crowds that police seemed to be expecting did not materialize.
Chris Murphy, the Boushie family lawyer, said he had never seen security of this level at a Canadian courthouse.
"The last thing on anybody's mind in this family is to cause any unrest. They're here to just to see what happened to their son and brother," Mr. Murphy said.
He described the day as being extremely difficult for the family to sit through.
"I think it's difficult for anybody to watch the evidence we heard today. … Compound that basically a thousand times and you probably understand what the family's going through," he said.
The hearing is expected to continue all week.