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.
“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.
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.
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.”