February 12, 2018 7:01 pm
Updated: February 13, 2018 9:47 am

Danielle Smith: Lawyer says Justin Trudeau’s comments on Gerald Stanley trial akin to jury tampering

Gerald Stanley enters the Court of Queen's Bench for the fifth day of his trial in Battleford, Sask., Feb. 5, 2018.

Liam Richards/CP

When I last wrote on the Gerald Stanley trial in the death of Colten Boushie, I said the case should not centre on race but on whether a person has the right to use lethal force to defend their property.

I expressed doubt that, if it had been fought on these grounds,  Stanley would have been acquitted. Two similar cases I looked at in Alberta seemed to suggest that using a firearm to injure and stop a thief is considered excessive or negligent use of a firearm.

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Danielle Smith: How far can you go to defend your property? 

READ MORE: GoFundMe page for Gerald Stanley draws fury amid protests, calls for appeal

But the defence went in a different direction altogether. Instead of claiming a right to self defence, Stanley claimed the shooting was an accident. In his testimony, he said he fired off two warning shots and a third to empty the chamber.

He said he thought the gun was empty when he reached across the passenger seat where Boushie was sitting to grab the car keys. A delayed shot, called a “hang fire,” went off accidently, hitting Boushie in the head.

The jury clearly felt this was the most credible account of what happened and found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

I asked defence lawyer Ari Goldkind for his thoughts on the case. In particular, I wondered if the jury had made a mistake and if a trial by judge would have led to a different result. He suggested a judge may have found Stanley guilty of mishandling his firearm, but he is loath to second-guess a jury.

LISTEN: Ari Goldkind and Danielle Smith discuss the Stanley/Boushie verdict

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READ MORE: Experts, Indigenous advocates renew call for more diversity on juries

The jury is there; the rest of us are not. They hear all the evidence. They weigh expert evidence. They hear conflicting accounts. They have to decide which scenario has the most credibility. And they believed Stanley.

What shocked Goldkind was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response.

“I’m not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today, but I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times…Indigenous people across this country are angry, they’re heartbroken, and I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better.”

Goldkind says Trudeau’s comments are akin to jury tampering. If this case goes to appeal, how is the next jury supposed to be impartial knowing the prime minister may call them a pack of racists if they don’t convict?

Justice Minister Jodi Wilson-Raybould said she’d meet with Boushie’s family “to make some serious, positive change to meet the recommendations of the family.” You have to wonder what recommendations are supposed to come out of this.

Much was made of the fact that it was an all-white jury. Goldkind told us this is not uncommon because members of First Nations communities overwhelmingly ignore jury summons. Should we start fining or jailing Indigenous people who don’t show up for jury duty? I wonder how that would go over.

It should be noted that, as the Toronto Star reported, several visible minorities and middle-aged white men were rejected during jury selection with peremptory challenges.

In addition, one of the reasons this trial became so polarized is because Boushie’s friends lied to the police and contradicted each other in court.

The story they initially told was they went to Stanley’s property to get help with a flat tire. In court it was revealed that they actually had been drinking all day, may have had a gun, may have committed other crimes at a neighbouring property and tried to steal Stanley’s truck and ATV.

That is the saddest part of Boushie’s death. The confrontation was entirely avoidable.

Blaming the jury won’t prevent something like this from happening again. There are many difficult conversations we need to be having about challenges in some aboriginal communities in Canada. Is that something the prime minister is prepared to talk about?

Danielle Smith can be reached at danielle@770chqr.com

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