Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under fire after comments he made about the controversial Colten Boushie trial, with a legal expert saying his words could have a corrosive effect on a potential appeal process.
On Friday, Saskatchewan farmer, Gerald Stanley was found not-guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Boushie, a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
After the verdict, thousands of people took to the streets across the country, angered over the decision and rallying about the absence of visibly Indigenous people on the jury.
Members of the Liberal government also voiced their displeasure with the justice system, which Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer, Sean Robichaud, said could have serious ramifications.
WATCH: Family of Colten Boushie praises ‘productive’ meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
“By commenting on a particular case, it may affect the ability for Crown to proceed with the case if an appeal is granted,” Robichaud said.
“I would have serious concerns moving forward, then. There will be a suggestion by the defense that the jury pool is now tainted and fair trial cannot proceed.”
WATCH: ‘Justice for Colten’ rally draws hundreds in Saskatoon
After the not-guilty verdict on Friday, Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis said there was “no justice” and said they would fight for an appeal.
WATCH: Colten Boushie’s cousin says they will fight for appeal
Robichaud said any public comments from the prime minister or justice minister questioning the credibility of the judiciary pose a threat to Canada’s democratic system, especially a potential appeal process, as the courts should be equal to the legislature.
Speaking at question period on Monday, Trudeau said, “While it would be completely inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case, we understand that there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system that we must address. We’re committed to broad-based reform to address these issues. As a country, we must, and we can do better.”
That prompted shouts from the opposition benches, members of which had assailed Trudeau and his Indigenous justice minister over the weekend for their strong reactions on social media in the wake of the verdict.
WATCH: Trudeau says it’s ‘completely inappropriate’ to comment on specifics on Gerald Stanley verdict
On Saturday, Trudeau said he wasn’t going to “comment on the process,” but said Canada has “come to this point as a country far too many times. Indigenous people across this country are angry. They’re heartbroken. I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better.”
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott also took to Twitter to express their support for Boushie’s family and assert the need for improvements.
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who was also a criminal defence lawyer, echoed the comments on Tuesday, telling reporters that “justice was not served for Colten Boushie.”
He said there needs to be a “greater engagement of all in our justice system, particularly when it comes to juries. Indigenous people are very underrepresented in jury selection and juries.”
“There is certainly a need for Justice Minister and the Prime Minister to recognize ongoing issues that Indigenous people face relating to the justice system,” Robichaud said.
“But to comment in any way directly or indirectly on a particular verdict has an effect that does a disservice to that objective. Many people have interpreted his comments about this verdict, which is totally inappropriate and would have a negative impact going forward.”
He added that Trudeau’s comment could have done “more harm than good” for Indigenous people.
Meanwhile, the Tories criticized the Liberals for “politicizing” the verdict and undermining the judicial process.
“The tragic death and pain for the family of (Colten Boushie) is unimaginable, and our thoughts are with his community,” Conservative Indigenous affairs critic Cathy McLeod wrote on Twitter. “We need to let the many steps of an independent judicial process unfold without political interference.”
Robichaud said another troubling aspect about Trudeau and other politicians’ comments is that jurors have no way to defend their verdict as they are legally prohibited from talking about the case.
“They cannot defend themselves,” he said. “So you have this one-sided dialogue where people cannot respond. It’s grossly unfair and insulting to jurors who took an oath to deliver a just and fair verdict.”
The selection of the jury has been criticized by Boushie’s family and Indigenous groups, expressing concern that there were not any visible Indigenous people on the bench.
At the beginning of Stanley’s trial, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations called on the federal government to make it mandatory for juries to include First Nations people.
The Boushie family is set to meet with Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Tuesday.
On Monday, the family was in Ottawa and met with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Relations Minister Jane Philpott. Family members said they are hoping to build relationships and make a change in the criminal justice system, which they said they have “little faith in.”
Wilson-Raybould has said the government is considering changes to the way juries are selected after concerns were raised about the apparent all-white makeup of the jury in Stanley’s trial.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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