Colten Boushie‘s mother says her family never stopped fighting for justice, and according to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), she deserved better treatment than she received from police.
The RCMP watchdog’s findings represent a long-awaited acknowledgement of what Debbie Baptiste endured hours after her son’s death.
In August 2016, Gerald Stanley shot Boushie after the 22-year-old Indigenous man and some of his friends drove onto the farmer’s rural property near Biggar, Sask. Stanley has always maintained the shooting was accidental, and a jury later found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
On the day of Boushie’s death, officers went to Baptiste’s home on Red Pheasant Cree Nation to inform her of her son’s death. The family claims she was mistreated but an internal investigation cleared the officers. Now, the independent report is siding with the family.
“I did not deserve to be treated the way I was treated and the RCMP, to clear themselves on no wrongdoings shows the injustice that continues,” Baptiste said Monday at a press conference.
“If Colten could hear me now, he’d be proud that we continued fighting and we never gave up. He was not a criminal. He was a human being and how they laid him out there in the rain, how they did not cover up the evidence.
“It’s not OK … things need to change. We need a change for the future.”
The CRCC determined Baptiste was discriminated against when officers told her about Boushie’s death. The report says police told her to get it together, asked if she was drinking and smelled her breath.
“This is the time that we step up now and we tell you the injustice of the racism in the courtroom, the discrimination needs to stop,” said Baptiste. “Things need to change.”
The officers’ union, the National Police Federation, disagrees with some of the report’s findings. The group says the review dismisses or ignores central facts and evidence. It calls the RCMP’s acceptance of the findings demeaning to members in Saskatchewan and beyond.
“The union, who represents RCMP members, complained that the CRCC ‘unconditionally accepted’ Debbie’s word and they believe that the officers had ‘demonstrated compassion and respect towards Debbie over the loss of her son,’” Boushie family lawyer Chris Murphy said.
”This is how RCMP members believe you show compassion and respect to an Indigenous woman who has just lost her son. You swarm her house. You search her house, you call her a drunk and you call her a liar,” said Murphy.
Baptiste’s lawyer Eleanore Sunchild said police showed the family of the accused more compassion than the victim’s family.
“Stanley’s family was treated entirely differently. They were treated with what I would call respect and compassion. The family of the accused in the report, Sheldon Stanley and Lisa Stanley, took a vehicle off the crime scene that they drove into the detachment to give a statement. They weren’t told not to talk about the evidence, they weren’t told not to talk about the case,” Sunchild said.
“Yet when you contrast that with how this family has been treated from the very start, there’s a big difference and that is systemic racism,” she said.
The commission highlighted investigative shortcomings like an SUV being exposed to significant rainfall, washing away Boushie’s blood, and an RCMP news release that disproportionately focused on a theft investigation connected to Boushie’s friends, despite no evidence of Boushie attempting to steal anything.
“This case is not unique to Indigenous people, to Indigenous families,” Sunchild said.
“Indigenous people are treated like this all the time by the current justice system, by the RCMP and all of the parties in the justice system, who dealt with the family. They treated the family with systemic racism. They treated the family badly, all of them.”
In a statement, Saskatchewan RCMP said the force is committed to implementing all recommendations, and this report addresses many unanswered questions about officer conduct, saying “it is our hope that the report and the steps we have taken to implement the recommendations reinforces our commitment to transparency and accountability to the people we serve.”
Sunchild is now calling on Saskatchewan justice officials to investigate hateful, racist remarks made on social media, saying that a public shaming is not adequate punishment.
“I’m calling on the provincial government, I’m calling on the minister of justice, to look into all of that racist hatred that we continue to see on social media and not just to say that public shame is an adequate punishment for that because it’s not. And people are going to keep talking and spitting their ugly hatred and racism at this family. That has to stop,” Sunchild said.
“I read an article last month where they chose not to prosecute hate crimes because they felt for one reason that the public shame was enough. It’s not enough, especially when the family is feeling and reading all of that hatred on a daily basis. It has to stop and someone has to tell them to stop.”
-With files from Nathaniel Dove