Supporters of Colton Boushie’s family outside the court in Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada, on Thursday. BATTLEFORD, Saskatchewan — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push for reconciliation of Canada’s troubled history with its Indigenous people particularly resonates here in the town of Battleford, in the central part of Saskatchewan Province.
A pass system , similar to South Africa’s under apartheid, once required Indigenous people to get a government official’s written permission to step off their reserves. A public hanging in 1885 of six Cree and two Assiniboine men on murder charges that have since been questioned remains the largest mass execution in Canada’s history.
And now there is the Gerald Stanley trial.
Mr. Stanley, a local farmer, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from the nearby Red Pheasant First Nation.
In August 2016, Mr. Boushie and four other Indigenous people drove onto Mr. Stanley’s property. Mr. Stanley, 56, testified at trial that he believed their goal was robbery, which he and his son tried to prevent.
In what the farmer called an unintended accident, Mr. Boushie was killed by a bullet to the back of his head that came from a semiautomatic handgun Mr. Stanley fired during a confrontation with the group. The largest mass execution in Canadian history was held at Fort Battleford, now a historic site. After a week of testimony, jurors began deliberations on Thursday afternoon. A verdict, which could include finding Mr. Stanley guilty of lesser charges, is expected shortly.
For the past 17 months, the case has been hotly debated in Battleford, stirring deep feelings here about the treatment — both past and present — of the province’s Indigenous population.
Mr. Stanley’s supporters have used the episode to call for American-style “stand your ground” self-protection laws. Meanwhile, online vitriol has exposed the province’s divide between the Indigenous and non-Native communities with a torrent of overtly racist comments that led to a call from the province’s premier for everyone to “rise above intolerance.”
Ben Kautz, a member of the municipal council in Browning, Saskatchewan, wrote, under his full name, in a Facebook page for farmers, now defunct, that Mr. Stanley’s “only mistake was leaving three witnesses.” He has since stepped down from the council.
At the same time, many non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan view Mr. Boushie’s death as an injustice, including a group that stood in front of the courthouse on Thursday in bone-chilling cold holding signs and banners calling for justice. Gerald Stanley, center, arriving at court on Thursday. Mr. Stanley is has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Boushie. Mr. Boushie’s family and their supporters are angry about the police inquiry, which they call flawed and inadequate, contending that it initially focused more on the actions of the five young Indigenous people than on the killing of Mr. Boushie. They also say the case has exposed a lack of progress made in Mr. Trudeau’s reconciliation effort.
“If we are making progress why would it have exploded so much when he got shot?” Jade Tootoosis, Mr. Boushie’s cousin, asked the other day in the living room of their grandmother’s house at Red Pheasant. “I pity them because I don’t understand why they feel so much hate for someone they don’t know.”
Eleanore Sunchild grew up in the Poundmaker Cree First Nation north of Battleford. Now she runs a legal practice in town that specializes in resolving claims by former pupils of mandatory boarding, or residential, schools the federal government established in the 19th century.
In 2015 a national truth and reconciliation commission found the program to be “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people. Saskatchewan had […]
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