Advertisement

Indigenous Bar Association to honour Colten Boushie

Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, holds a photo of her son during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 14, 2018. The Saskatchewan throne speech last month included a reference to changing trespassing laws to "better address the appropriate balance between the rights of rural landowners and members of the public." The province has already sought public input on whether access to rural property should require prior permission from a landowner, regardless of the activity, and if not doing so should be illegal. A lawyer representing the family of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man fatally shot by farmer Gerald Stanley in August 2016, said she is worried the Saskatchewan Party government is engaged in political posturing which could stoke racial fear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang.
Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, holds a photo of her son during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 14, 2018. The Saskatchewan throne speech last month included a reference to changing trespassing laws to "better address the appropriate balance between the rights of rural landowners and members of the public." The province has already sought public input on whether access to rural property should require prior permission from a landowner, regardless of the activity, and if not doing so should be illegal. A lawyer representing the family of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man fatally shot by farmer Gerald Stanley in August 2016, said she is worried the Saskatchewan Party government is engaged in political posturing which could stoke racial fear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang. Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

Andre Bear remembers pain building deep inside him as he digested news of a controversial acquittal of a Saskatchewan farmer who shot and killed a young Indigenous man.

“It really tore my world apart,” Bear said from his home in Saskatoon.

“It made me feel hopeless that I would never see justice in my lifetime as a young Indigenous man in this country.”

READ MORE: ‘We try to continue on with prayer’ — vigil for Colten Boushie

It sparked a change inside him, he says, and he decided to become a lawyer.

Gerald Stanley‘s acquittal on Feb. 9, 2018, in the death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie prompted rallies and outrage across the country.

Story continues below advertisement

Bear, 25, is Cree and a member of the Canoe Lake First Nation. He was working towards an education degree at the University of Saskatchewan as the trial was going on.

He’s now a law student at the university and the student representative on the Indigenous Bar Association in Canada’s board of directors.

He wants to spend his life challenging a system that he says needs to change if there is to be equal justice for everyone.

Jade Tootoosis, Boushie’s cousin, attended a conference hosted by the association last year. She urged the Indigenous legal community to make the second anniversary of Stanley’s acquittal a day of action to highlight the treatment of Aboriginal people in the courts.

The association is calling on students, faculty and allies to dedicate this Sunday to Boushie.

Story continues below advertisement

The National Indigenous Law Students Association has organized a demonstration beginning with a vigil at the University of Ottawa. Participants will then walk to Parliament Hill and eventually to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Bear never met Boushie but he grew up with the young man’s family members in North Battleford, Sask.

Court heard how Boushie, who was a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, and four other young people drove onto Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. Boushie’s friends testified they were looking for help with a flat tire.

Stanley told court he thought they were trying to steal an all-terrain vehicle and he accidentally shot Boushie in the back of the head.

Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder. He later pleaded guilty to unsafe storage of an unrestricted firearm and was fined $3,000.

READ MORE: Gerald Stanley found not guilty of murder of Colten Boushie

He has not talked publicly since the court case.

Boushie’s family called for changes following the verdict, including the end of peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject potential jurors without having to provide a reason. The challenges were criticized during the trial with suggestions that they excluded Indigenous people from the jury.

Story continues below advertisement

The federal government brought in legislation that bans the challenges. However, an Ontario judge struck down the ban last November and similar decisions are expected to follow. Uncertainty remains about the ban’s longevity if it is brought in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Boushie’s family wanted a public inquiry, but Saskatchewan’s justice minister rejected that. He said the trial showed what happened and an inquiry wouldn’t make a difference.

Boushie’s death and the trial inflamed racial tensions in Saskatchewan. At one point, then-premier Brad Wall asked people to stop posting racist and hate-filled comments online.

READ MORE: Family of Colten Boushie calls for out-of-province investigator

Bear says he believes the province’s response to the verdict, such as strengthening trespassing laws, did not do anything to repair the fractured relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

He has spoken with friends, students and colleagues and sat in on town-hall meetings in rural communities. He says Indigenous people still feel that there hasn’t been justice and many farmers do not understand the laws on defending property.

Boushie’s family also has said they would like to see more Aboriginal judges and Crown prosecutors. Bear suggests all lawyers should be educated on anti-racism and Canada’s colonial history.

Story continues below advertisement

“Lawyers and law students hold a responsibility in decolonizing the legal system and understanding how Indigenous legal principles may guide Canadian law.”