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Opinion You and I can question the Stanley verdict – politicians should not

We cannot know what went on in the jury room in Saskatchewan, when seven women and five men decided that Gerald Stanley was not criminally responsible in the death of Colten Boushie. The jurors are not at liberty to explain or defend their decision.

Which makes the statement of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould following the verdict so disturbing.

"My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight," she tweeted. "I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do better – I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians."

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Read more: Colten Boushie's family meets federal ministers after Stanley's acquittal

Read more: What you need to know about juries, challenges and potential reforms

The NDP pushed Justin Trudeau for answers Monday in the wake of Gerald Stanley’s acquittal in the death of Colten Boushie. The Prime Minister wouldn’t address the case directly, but said work to “fix the system” for Indigenous people was ongoing. The Canadian Press

For Michael Plaxton, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, "such remarks are deeply problematic." They politicize criminal trials, interfering with the right of a jury "to reach the verdict they conclude is appropriate, in light of the evidence, the trial judge's instructions, and the burden of proof, without having to fear that they will be pilloried by public figures for having reached the 'wrong' conclusion," he said in an exchange by e-mail.

How exactly does Ms. Wilson-Raybould believe the country should be doing "better?" Does the Minister believe there should always be at least one Indigenous person on any jury in that province? Or only in crimes where the victim is Indigenous and the accused is white?

Would the presence of one or more First Nations or other Indigenous jurors have affected the outcome of the trial? Are we to assume that jurors invariably reach their verdict based on race, that non-Indigenous jurors found Mr. Stanley innocent because they and he were non-Indigenous – and by the way, how do we know that to be true? – while Indigenous jurors would have found him guilty?

Is that all the faith the Justice Minister has in the justice system?

Edmonton Councillor Aaron Paquette, when explaining why he would not be commenting on the verdict, tweeted: "There is a necessary separation between judicial, legislative and executive powers in this country. They are parallel systems that should, as far as is possible, stay in their lanes."

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Mr. Paquette understood the role of a politician at such times better than the federal Justice Minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also not satisfied with the outcome.

"Our hearts go out to Colten Boushie's family. His mom Debbie, his friends and the entire community," Mr. Trudeau told reporters. "I'm not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today. But 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."

What point have we come to? The point where a white person is found not guilty in the death of an Indigenous person because the jury was allegedly white? Is that what he meant?

For Prof. Plaxton, "public figures taking potshots at jurors … effectively calling out jurors who cannot answer any accusations feels, to me, very much like 'punching down.'"

You and I have every right to question the verdict in the Stanley trial. We can ask whether the jury selection process unfairly excluded potential Indigenous jurors. We can ask whether the RCMP properly investigated the shooting and whether the Crown effectively prosecuted the case. We can ask whether the judge erred in law. We can and should ask whether systemic racism unfairly favours white people over Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

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But ministers of the Crown cannot and must not question the verdict of a trial. With their prejudicial tweets, they undermined the justice system they are charged with upholding. And they have made it harder, not easier, to fairly examine the jury-selection process, which the Prime Minister and Justice Minister promised to look into Monday.

As Mr. Paquette said on Twitter. "Any words about the system, or that 'we must do better,' or that people should 'remain calm,' or offering my 'thoughts and prayers,' accomplishes nothing. Literally nothing resembling progress or justice or work happens with such statements."

Amen.

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