Federal Conservative and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer is back in Saskatchewan for the first time since Battleford area farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted in the second-degree murder trial of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.
Scheer is back in his home riding of Regina Qu’Appelle to host a town hall in Fort Qu’Appelle. Prior to the town hall, Global News spoke with Scheer about a variety of issues including the fallout of the Stanley murder trial.
“First and foremost my thoughts and prayers are with the Boushie family, a very tragic situation for a parent. I can only imagine what the family’s going through in this tragic situation,” Scheer said.
Shortly after the verdict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said there needs to be justice for all Canadians, seemingly taking a side in a judicial matter that’s been handled by a jury.
“I think it’s very important that, especially politicians, respect the independence of the judicial system,” Scheer said.
“We can have a conversation about some of the larger structural things around our justice system. It’s always a good idea to look at that, but in terms of individual specific cases I think it’s important that politicians respect the independence of that process.”
The Boushie family and supporters want to see judicial reform, specifically around the practice of attorneys being able to arbitrarily dismiss up to 14 potential jurors without cause, known as a peremptory challenge. In the jury selection for the Stanley trial, the defence dismissed all visibly Indigenous potential jurors.
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says not having representative juries can erode confidence in the justice system. However, the lawyer turned politician stopped short of calling for an end peremptory challenges.
“There’s very much a desire to work together on the path of reconciliation and improving the system that is failing far too many,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
“I think it’s very important that we look at these things in a comprehensive way, and that we look at what exactly the challenges are. It’s important that we get things like this right,” Scheer said.
The Opposition leader added that this is a very emotionally charged time and urged his government counterparts to not act rashly.
“Are there structural issues that need to be changed? Are there concerns about aspects of the jury selection process? Aspects about how the RCMP respond to these types of things in general? I think it’s important we take the time to get this right,” Scheer said.
Minister Wilson-Raybould said Ottawa can consider removing peremptory challenges, but it is not an action they can do alone.
“We can make changes to the Criminal Code to eliminate peremptory challenges, but we have to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that there are Indigenous peoples who are in the jury pool,” she said.
Rural RCMP Response Time
Over the past couple of years in Saskatchewan there has been a great deal of concern over RCMP response times in rural areas. This lead to the creation of the Protection and Response Team (PRT) last year.
The PRT involves RCMP, commercial vehicle enforcement officers and conservation officers working with increase collaboration. The goal is whatever officer is closest to a call, such as a break and enter, will respond first.
Scheer’s riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle includes a large rural area and he says this has been an ongoing issue for his constituents.
“There are things there that the federal government can look at; in terms of is this current government recruiting enough RCMP officers? Are we getting the resources that the provinces are asking for?” Scheer asked.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he has had these conversations with provincial officials in the days since the Stanley verdict.
“For the last couple of years this has been a concern for both the province of Saskatchewan, as well as the Government of Canada,” Goodale said.
Goodale pointed to investments made in the First Nations Policing Program, which puts more resources on the ground in First Nations communities.
“We need to all pull together in this effort; that it’s not one side against the other, that it’s not adversarial. Public safety is an issue that matters to everybody,” Goodale said.
Excerpts from Blake Lough’s sit-down interview with Scheer will be airing throughout the week on Global News at 6 in Regina, also covering issues surrounding marijuana and pipelines.
With files from Blake Lough and Amanda Connolly