The verdict in the Colten Boushie murder trial sparks outrage across Canada

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After 12 hours of deliberation, an all-white jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of Gerald Stanley, accused in the killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan.

The jury could have convicted the man accused of manslaughter – they chose not to do so.

Since the summer of 2016, national attention had been focussed on the dramatic incident, the circumstances leading to Boushie’s death, and what the trial might mean for relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

The court heard that on August 9, 2016, a SUV carrying Boushie and four other young adults from the Red Pheasant reserve pulled into the Stanley farm looking for help with a flat tire. The five had been out swimming earlier that day and some drinking was involved.

The group admitted to trying to break into a vehicle parked on the property. Gerald Stanley and his son Sheldon saw this and went to confront the group. Sheldon hit the windshield of their SUV with a hammer while Gerald kicked out the taillight.

Then the SUV carrying Boushie crashed into the other vehicle and two shots were fired. Two of the passengers ran from the incapacitated SUV when the first shots rang out, but Boushie, who was likely asleep, his girlfriend and another passenger stayed put.

A third shot then rang out that struck Boushie in the back of the head from close range.

Stanley’s defence claimed the shooting was an accident.

He testified that after seeing the riding mower his wife had been using unattended, he believed she had been run over by the SUV. He also claimed that he had loaded the pistol that killed Boushie with two rounds. After firing off the two warning shots he approached the vehicle and when he went to turn off the engine the gun fired a third bullet he wasn’t aware was in the chamber by itself.

A hang fire, which refers to an unexpected delay between the triggering of a firearm and the ignition of the propellant, is an extremely unlikely occurrence. The way it was described to the jurors also defies logic. RCMP firearms expert Greg Williams told the court that the gun that killed Boushie showed no signs of mechanical malfunction.

Additionally, the gun in question wasn’t handed over to authorities, but rather found during a search of the Stanley farm. It was only after examination by police that it was linked to Boushie’s death when his DNA was discovered on the barrel.

In a Facebook post examining the specifics of the trial, Saskatchewan lawyer Rob Fiest compared the story accompanying Stanley’s defence to the “magic bullet that killed JFK.”

But there were issues with almost every facet of the trial. During jury selection, several possible Indigenous jurors were rejected for potential racial bias. The judge presiding over the case, Chief Justice Martel Popescul, chose to assign himself to the case despite a potential conflict of interest.

Popescul represented the Saskatchewan RCMP in 1992 as a lawyer in the Leo Lachance trial.

Lachance was a Cree man killed by Carney Milton Nerland, a leader of the Saskatchewan Klu Klux Klan and Aryan Nation who was also an RCMP informant. Nerland was charged with manslaughter instead of murder and sentenced to four years in prison in 1991. He was released in 1993. The RCMP was widely criticized for its handling of the investigation.

Since the Stanley verdict was rendered on February 9, rallies have been organized across Canada under the banner “Justice for Colton”. A national dialogue is developing around the need for legal reform and Indigenous representation within the judicial system.

Family members of Boushie were in Ottawa following the trial and met with politicians and lawmakers.

“We feel like we are finally being heard,” said Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, in a press conference following the meetings. “We’ve been able to share the story of Colton and the loving individual he was. But also our hardships and all the systemic discrimination and racism that we’ve endured in his loss.”

Nonetheless, a strong backlash of racism directed at Indigenous people and the Boushie family, particularly online, has erupted in the wake of the controversial verdict.

Stanley is due back in court on March 19 for two charges of unsafe storage of a firearm stemming from the events on the night Boushie died. At press time Crown prosecutors had yet to file an appeal, but have until March 11 to do so.

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