A civilian watchdog’s report into how Mounties handled the high-profile shooting death of a young Indigenous man in Saskatchewan has found officers discriminated against his mother.
The finding is detailed in a document by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP, which reviewed the investigation into the death of Colten Boushie.
Global News obtained the report, as well as a second document prepared by the CRCC, before the RCMP published them.
The 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation was shot and killed in August 2016, while sitting in an SUV that he and his friends had driven onto the farm of Gerald Stanley near Biggar, Sask.
A jury acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder after he testified to having fired warning shots and saying his gun “just went off.”
“This was often used to justify his killing by people who did not know the facts of the case,” the release stated.
The commission found the search of Boushie’s mother’s house was “not authorized by law” and “unlawful,” adding the way officers treated Boushie’s mother when they notified her of his death amounted to discrimination based on race.
The report detailed how one officer questioned Debbie Baptiste about whether she had been drinking, while someone also told her to “get it together.”
“The RCMP members provided Ms. Baptiste with little information about what had happened to her son, but proceeded to question her and look in places in her home where no person could be hiding,” it read.
“Not only did the RCMP members’ actions show little regard or compassion for Ms. Baptiste’s distress and pain, they compounded her suffering by treating her as if she was lying.”
It says one officer also checked a microwave where Baptiste told them she had placed her son’s dinner.
“After spending the evening fearing that something had happened to her son and just seeing her worst fears realized, Ms. Baptiste saw her home encircled by a large number of armed police officers and had to endure this treatment from the RCMP members who remained in her home for about 20 minutes,” the report read.
“She was then left with a lasting and painful memory of her interactions with the RCMP, and few answers about what had happened to her son.”
Several days after entering Baptiste’s home, the RCMP went to the funeral hall where Boushie’s family was holding his wake to “provide an update about the investigation.” The CRCC found this an “unreasonable” purpose to attend the wake, adding that it worsened the RCMP’s relationship with Boushie’s family.
The CRCC found that the attendance of RCMP members at the funeral hall where Mr. Boushie’s wake was being held contributed to a further deterioration of the RCMP’s relationship with the family. Although the RCMP members’ intention was only to provide an update about the investigation, the CRCC found that their attendance at the wake for this purpose was unreasonable.
The CRCC also found that some of the RCMP media releases disproportionately focused on theft in relation to Boushie.
“This caused anguish for the family because the releases could leave the impression that Mr. Boushie’s killing was justified or that his death was ‘deserved’—a narrative that immediately emerged on social media after news of the death came out, and fueled racial tensions.”
RCMP response a ‘missed opportunity’: commission
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s response, which was included in the first report, accepted the finding that the treatment towards Baptiste was discriminatory, noting that her treatment was insensitive.
The CRCC said while the RCMP generally accepted almost all findings and recommendations, their response “said very little” regarding the issues “at the heart of the case,” and gave much attention to “minor” and “technical points about the few findings that the RCMP disagreed with.”
“These points often related to resources and logistical issues that were discussed at length, while the more important issues were often addressed with few words. In that sense, the response could be viewed as a missed opportunity for the RCMP to take responsibility for the manner in which Mr. Boushie’s family and friends were treated.”
The CRCC did not specify what important issues they were referring to.
Despite this, the CRCC found the RCMP’s response to the interim report, published in the chairperson’s initiated report, shows “a willingness” in implementing the report’s findings and recommendations.
The CRCC’s report said the RCMP commissioner, adamantly disagreed with the CRCC’s finding that the manner in which the RCMP members surrounded Ms. Baptiste’s home was unreasonable.”
In her response, Lucki did state that she agreed “that the manner in which the RCMP members executed the search of Ms. Baptistes home on the night of her son’s death was not reasonable.”
The CRCC’s report was prompted by a public complaint by Alvin Baptiste, Boushie’s uncle, that was filed on Dec. 16, 2016. The complaint focused on the conduct of RCMP members who attended Debbie Baptiste’s home, though it also expressed concerns about media releases sent out following Boushie’s death. It also raised concerns about a vehicle pursuit conducted while a young woman was in custody in the back.
The RCMP investigated the complaint and concluded that all of the family’s allegations were “unsupported,” with the exception of the allegation about safety of the woman in custody in the police vehicle.
The commission’s report contradicts the RCMP’s claim after a review and investigation into the matter.
“(The CRCC) found that the evidence supported all of the family’s allegations.”
Issues with crime scene management
One large issue that the CRCC investigation included was the handling of evidence during the RCMP’s investigation after the shooting.
The CRCC said there was no question that the Ford Escape Boushie was in when he was shot was a key piece of physical evidence.
During the initial investigation of the scene on August 10, 2016, an RCMP member with the forensic identification section took “some general” pictures of the Escape. The member did not take detailed notes or forensic photos at the time as a search warrant was required to process the scene and collect evidence.
The FIS did not return to the scene until the next morning, due to a delay in obtaining a search warrant.
It rained that evening.
“In the meantime, the vehicle was exposed to inclement weather and as a result, evidence was altered and bloodstain patterns in the vehicle were lost. Nothing was done to protect the vehicle.”
The CRCC found that it was a significant error in the RCMP’s investigation to not protect the evidence.
Two RCMP members who were a part of this initial investigation were interviewed as part of the CRCC’s report and indicated that they did not consider covering the vehicle. One member said that there were tarps available at the scene but not tents or shelters.
The CRCC reported that there was no clear explanation as to how the failure to protect the vehicle occurred, and found that it appeared to be due to a lack of communication.
“The impact of the loss of the evidence contained in the Ford Escape on the outcome of the investigation can never be known, since there was never an opportunity to collect and use the evidence.”
Michelle Stewart, an associate professor in justice studies at the University of Regina, said the reports highlight a critical failure.
“The commissioner does not understand what systemic racism means. And we have clear examples here of what systemic racism is in practice,” she said, speaking to Global News over the phone.
In 2020, Lucki said she believed there is an unconscious bias within the mounties, but said she struggled with the definition of systemic racism and how it applied to the force.
Stewart says the findings suggest the RCMP needs transformative change.
“It’s probably time for Brenda Lucki to maybe step out of this position,” she said.
“There needs to be more accountability in policing.”
Global News reached out to the RCMP for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
The Boushie and Baptiste family will be holding a media conference on Monday morning at the Dakota Dunes Resort on Whitecap First Nation.
— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and Nathaniel Dove, Canadian Press’ Stephanie Taylor