Skip to main content

Politics First Nations chiefs want UN to examine racism in Canada’s justice system

Debbie Baptiste and Jade Tootoosis, the mother and cousin of Colten Boushie, address a special gathering of the Assembly of First Nations in Gatineau, Que. on Wednesday.

David Kawai/The Canadian Press

First Nations chiefs want the United Nations to take a hard look at Canada’s justice system, which they say is rife with racism and is failing people like Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man who was shot to death by a Saskatchewan farmer.

The family of Mr. Boushie, who was killed in August, 2016, addressed a special gathering of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday afternoon to emphasize the need for an international review.

Jade Brown Tootoosis, Mr. Boushie’s cousin, told the two hundred or so chiefs that most people in the room probably had a missing or murdered family member.

Story continues below advertisement

“As an Indigenous person, we are not seen as worthy of justice,” Ms. Tootoosis said. “And yet, this is our homeland, this is our territory, this is our home. And those who are settling within our home are benefiting off of the land, the resources, and have put forth a system that continues to oppress us, criminalize us and exclude us because they do not see us as human beings. And this is unacceptable.”

The chiefs voted unanimously for a resolution calling for the federal government to reform the Criminal Code to ensure equitable treatment for First Nations.

It also asks Ottawa to invite Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to investigate the justice system’s treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, including the actions of lawyers, Crown attorneys, probation officers, social workers, juries, police officers and judges.

Debbie Baptiste, Mr. Boushie’s mother, told the chiefs that no family should have to endure the pain hers has suffered. “I am here to make sure no other family gets the unfair treatment that we got in that courtroom, the injustice that we got,” she said.

Gerald Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder in February in the killing of Mr. Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.

Mr. Stanley, a 56-year-old white farmer, acknowledged holding the gun that killed Mr. Boushie, who was sitting in the front seat of an SUV that he and his friends had driven onto the Stanley farm. But, Mr. Stanley testified, he believed the weapon was no longer loaded and that it “just went off,” shooting Mr. Boushie in the back of the head.

His acquittal sparked protests across the country by Indigenous people and others who said the handling of the case and its outcome demonstrated that Canada’s criminal and judicial processes are tainted by racism.

Story continues below advertisement

The outcry prompted the federal government to introduce legislation aimed at changing the way juries are selected. When the jury was being chosen in Mr. Stanley’s trial, potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous were rejected under a provision known as a peremptory challenge.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is also investigating the conduct of the police who handled the case.

The Wednesday meeting was not the first time Mr. Boushie’s family and supporters have tried to draw international attention to what they say are inequities in Canada’s courts and criminal investigations. Last month, they appeared at a side event at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York to talk about their experiences.

AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde is urging Ottawa to incorporate 'free, prior and informed' principles in legislation impacting Indigenous people. The Canadian Press

Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the AFN, told the chiefs that “there is no justice system for First Nations people.” He called the Boushie family members to the stage to thank them for their advocacy and to wrap them in star blankets that symbolize warmth, love and protection.

The motion passed by the chiefs was seconded by Chief Billy Joe Laboucan of the Lubicon Lake Band in Alberta. His daughter, Bella Laboucan McLean, fell to her death from the 31st floor of a Toronto high-rise in 2013. Her family believes she was murdered, but no charges were ever laid.

“There’s so much blatant discrimination in the Canadian legal system. I mean, it’s across the board,” Mr. Laboucan said in an interview. “So there needs to be an investigation from the international community. Canada is not going to police itself.”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter