Linda Charles wasn’t surprised to see Gerald Stanley acquitted on Friday, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a painful experience.
Charles, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band councillor for Stanley Mission, had followed Stanley’s trial in the news over the past two weeks. As soon as the lawyers and prosecutors turned to jury selection, she thought the writing was on the wall.
The jury’s decision to acquit Stanley of the murder of 22-year-old Colten Boushie brought back painful memories for Charles, who lost her own son in 2003 at the age of 24. After the trial, her thoughts turned to Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, and the rest of the family. When the chance came to come out to a rally and offer her support to Boushie’s family, Charles eagerly took it.
“We can’t wait for the provincial government to say, ‘yes, we’ll work with you,’” Charles said. “We have to start with grassroots people. This was the beginning (and) it’s a very good start.”
Charles wasn’t alone in that assessment. On Sunday, residents from across the north packed into the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre to protest the jury’s decision and offer support to Boushie’s family.
For Charles, who faced a three-and-a-half our drive home after the rally, attending was an easy decision. The hard work is ahead. She wants the provincial and federal governments to overhaul Canada’s education and justice system, and said that’s going to take perseverance and cooperation from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
“I know that there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of work that has taken place right now as a result of what happened,” she explained.
For most in attendance at Sunday’s rally, that work starts with a judicial review. The first speaker of the afternoon, Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, touched on what would become a familiar theme when he called Canada’s justice system “outdated.”
After the rally, Hardlotte didn’t shy away from offering even more criticism.
“Changes need to be made to be fair (and) not only just for First Nations people. We see it in the mainstream too,” he said. “It’s just a system that I can say is somewhat long and outdated. It hasn’t really served us well, especially the First Nations people in the province and in Canada.”
Hardlotte and the rest of the PAGC want special attention paid to how jurors were selected during the trial, they’re already starting discussions with provincial leaders. First Nations leaders have already met with Premier Scott Moe, and on Monday he and other Saskatchewan tribal chiefs had a meeting in Saskatoon with representatives from the provincial government to discuss the issue, and the PAGC has already come out in support of an appeal.
He said Boushie’s family, and First Nations people across Canada, are hurting. However, he remains hopeful that a change in how Canadian courts operate, particularly in how juries are selected, will be a positive legacy for a tragic event.
“When you’re a leader … you have to be optimistic,” he said. “You have to be positive about a good outcome.”
Throughout Sunday’s rally, speaker after speaker condemned the jury selection process used in Stanley’s trial. Many, such as Chief Peter Beatty of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, said their faith in Canada’s justice system was shaken following the verdict.
Both Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron and FSIN First Vice-Chief Kimberly Jonathan called for Indigenous people to seek change through peaceful means.
Afterwards, Jonathan said Boushie’s family and their lawyer had complied a list of areas they went were unfair and unjust. The FSIN plans on helping the family, who is already in Ottawa, take those issues straight to the federal government.
“We’re going to go to the hill, and (the list) will be made public as soon as we get them to the Prime Minister,” Jonathan said. “I’ve been asked, ‘do you have meetings with the Prime Minister? Did you request meetings with the Prime Minister?’ I said, ‘no. We’re going, and we will get meetings with the ministers. It’s not a question.”
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne didn’t hesitate to weigh in on the question of judicial review either. Dionne and Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller represented the city at Sunday’s rally. During a brief turn at the podium, Dionne criticized the jury selection process, and urged the provincial and federal governments to look into a law that would see future juries evenly split between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Dionne also turned his ire on “social media haters,” who he said have created an incendiary atmosphere with racist comments.
The hostile social media atmosphere was another common theme with speakers, who worried the online battles would lead to real life violence. Despite the anger in the room, almost all speakers expressed optimism for the future, but the next few days will determine if that hope is well founded.
“This is a game changer in Canada,” Jonathan said. “We just hope that this change is a win for all of us.”
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