On February 13, I made a Senator Statement on the news of the jury verdict in the Colten Boushie case. I offered my deepest sympathies to the family of Colten Boushie, a young man from the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan. In August 2016, Colten was killed by a bullet fired into the back of his head by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer. Stanley’s lawyer argued that the gunshot was accidental through a rare phenomenon called a “hang fire.” Stanley was acquitted on Friday, February 9. The trial occurred amidst a strong undercurrent of racism against indigenous people in Saskatchewan. Questions are being raised about the fairness of having an all-white jury.
During the jury-selection process, potential jurors who were visibly indigenous were deliberately excluded by peremptory challenge by Stanley’s lawyer. While this is legally permissible, many have questioned whether it should be, particularly when it is well known that Saskatchewan has a high level of racism towards Indigenous people.
Decades ago, this practice of peremptory challenge was identified as a major problem for Indigenous people in Manitoba. Reconciliation is not possible as long as personal bias and racism are so obviously embedded in our jury system. Challenges to a jury selection should be for justified reasons and not for personal biases or racism against indigenous candidates.
Enough is enough. The government must move immediately to set in motion real actions to end the current practice of peremptory challenges. We, the indigenous people of Canada, deserve better.