Sunday, February 11, 2018

Uneven Justice?

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 Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie

What if I shared with you that I own a handgun which I keep loaded and ready in the event that a stranger ventures onto our property? And what if I told you that I was ready to use lethal force, even if I wasn't sure of the intent of that stranger, or whether he or she was armed? You might inform me that doing so is illegal in Canada and that I would likely go to prison if I acted in a reckless fashion.

I don't own a weapon and probably never will but your response would be accurate, or at least we thought it was. On Friday a Saskatchewan farmer named Gerald Stanley was acquitted of the murder of Colten Boushie, an aboriginal man who ended up on Stanley's property one fateful night. Stanley was charged with second degree murder but could have been convicted of manslaughter. Instead he walks away a free man while the Boushie family is mourning again.

This is a complicated situation because Boushie and his vehicle full of friends arrived unannounced that night and from reports some of them were inebriated. Local farmers had been dealing with thefts from property in an area where police response is slow. It seems as though everyone involved had changing stories about what transpired. But Boushie was shot in the back of the head as he sat in his vehicle.

Stanley and others claim that their readiness for intruders has nothing to do with race. Yet racism is an issue in Saskatchewan, which is evident from social media comments at the time of Boushie's death, during the trial, and after the verdict. And the defense lawyers for Stanley used their selection exceptions to ensure that no Native was on the jury.

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Yesterday there were protests across the country over the verdict. Aboriginal spokespersons decried the outcome, saying that there is no sense that justice has been done in this situation and in so many others. Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, held a news conference on Saturday saying that while he supports an inquest into this particular verdict, he doesn’t think it will be enough to create lasting, system-wide change.

Perhaps this verdict was "just" according to what was presented in the courtroom. The jury was carefully informed by the judge and jurors deliberated over the evidence. Still, I am heartsick about the outcome. I can't imagine a single aboriginal person in this country -- more than a million Canadians -- being satisfied with this outcome. The United Church has been involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose recommendations noted a wide range of systemic disparities in many aspects including justice. It does seem that the system is broken when it comes to justice and trust. I wonder what our denominational response will be?

I hope that congregations across the country will be praying for the Boushie family today and for all those affected by this verdict, and for justice for all in this country. Federal ministers and Prime Minister Trudeau keep claiming that "we have to do better." Those words need to be more than just another platitude.

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