Nearly a thousand people rallied in front of a court house in Saskatoon Saturday to honour the family of Colten Boushie and to express their frustration with the trial of the man accused of killing him.
It was one of several rallies across Canada following a not guilty verdict in the trial of Gerald Stanley, acquitted of second-degree murder in Mr. Boushie's death. The verdict, which was handed down Friday evening, was met with anger and sadness among the crowd in Saskatoon.
Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, was killed on Aug. 9, 2016, when the car in which he was a passenger drove on to Gerald Stanley's farm. Mr. Stanley believed Mr. Boushie's companions were trying to steal an ATV, a confrontation ensued and Mr. Boushie was fatally shot. Mr. Stanley testified that it was an accident, that the gun "just went off," and a jury acquitted him Friday night.
People held signs and stood in the cold of a Saskatchewan winter for more than an hour listening to a procession of speakers including Mr. Boushie's cousin Jade Tootoosis and several chiefs from across the province.
Vice-chief David Pratt of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations called for changes to the jury selection system. In Mr. Stanley's trial, defence counsel used peremptory challenges to block every potential juror who appeared to be Indigenous.
"We're urging the federal justice minister to take that action immediately. We're calling for an inquiry, we're calling for the government to act," Mr. Pratt said. "We're willing to work with our Treaty partners in the spirit of reconciliation but when rulings like this happen it sets the relationship back."
In addition to Saskatoon, Battleford was one of many communities that planned gatherings today to protest the ruling. Other rallies and vigils were planned in Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in California spoke to reporters and addressed the news of the verdict. He said he would not discuss the process that led to this point, but that his heart goes out to Mr. Boushie's family.
"I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times. Indigenous people across this country are angry, they're heartbroken and I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better," Mr. Trudeau said.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe issued a statement saying he understands the deep disappointment being felt following Friday's court decision. He said he would be meeting with First Nations leadership and speaking with Prime Minister Trudeau.
"The Saskatchewan I am proud to call home is one that is strongest when our communities work together. It is now more important than ever that we continue to demonstrate consideration, patience and understanding for one another," Mr. Moe said.
Charlie Clark, mayor of Saskatoon, stood with Mr. Boushie's family at the rally and later spoke at a press conference with several family members and chiefs hosted by Saskatoon Tribal Council. Mr. Clark said this is a defining moment for this community and this country.
"We need to look and listen and take the time to hear," Mr. Clark said.
Mark Arcand, chief of Saskatoon Tribal Council, pointed out how many chiefs had come to Saskatoon to speak and support Mr. Boushie's family, many having travelled from Northern communities.
"What you're hearing today is solidarity. What you're hearing is unity," Mr. Arcand said. "It's time we stand up and make a difference in this province and we challenge the provincial government to do what's best."
Jade Tootoosis, wearing a hoodie bearing the words Justice for Colten, said she considered Mr. Boushie a brother, not a cousin, and that the year and a half since his death has been difficult. She spent that time advocating for justice and now feels let down, but she won't give up, she said.
"Last night we were denied justice for his death. This is the story not just of my brother Colten but of many, many Indigenous people," Ms. Tootoosis said. "We stand here and continue to advocate for him because we don't want this to happen to any individual anywhere. No family should have to endure what we had to go through."
With files from Tamsin McMahon and The Canadian Press