Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte was in North Battleford on the final day of jury deliberations in the trial of Gerald Stanley.
He was driving back to Prince Albert that night, and heard over the radio a verdict had been reached. Hardlotte listened as the jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of a charge of second-degree murder in the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie. Hardlotte said he was saddened by the result.
To a crowd at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre, Hardlotte said Friday night was "a step back in reconciliation” for the country.
Hardlotte was one of a number of area Chiefs and elected officials who addressed nearly 400 people sitting side-by-side in sombre remembrance and solidarity with Boushie’s family Sunday night. The gathering began at Prince Albert's Court of Queen’s Bench, but was moved due to cold weather.
The night was filled with countless calls for unity and respect for one another. Many speakers said despite the turmoil, First Nations people have endured. The speakers emphasized that they should not give in to the anger, and should take the high ground and set a precedent for others and future generations. It ended with a candle vigil.
— Tyler Marr (@JournoMarr) February 11, 2018
Sunday’s gathering was the first for Prince Albert since the verdict. Residents joined thousands who came together across Saskatchewan and Canada — Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, Yellowknife — over the weekend calling for justice for Boushie and his family.
“I ask our governments, both federal and provincial, let us work together to change the system,” Hardlotte told the crowd. “The changes need to be made to be fair. Not just for First Nations people, we see it in the mainstream …. It is just a system that is somewhat flawed and outdated.”
Hardlotte said his entire life he was told to have faith in the system and remains optimistic positive change will occur, despite saying it failed Boushie and his family.
“I pray that good things will happen … Colten Boushie’s legacy will change the system for the future for First Nations and … non-First Nations people,” he said.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron told the crowd he attended school across from the Court of Queen’s Bench in Battleford where the trial took place. He said he experienced racism there, and it was a sad reality it existed. He said now is the time to “make positive change” guided by Indigenous peoples input.
Over the next few months, Cameron said the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada will have the chance to show if they are willing to “walk side-by-side” with First Nations to make the change.
“First and foremost, an appeal is the priority right now for the family,” he said to applause, while encouraging people to make their voices heard with a ballot.
FSIN first vice-chief Kim Jonathan, while calling for unity, said "an eye for an eye" is not justice and urged everyone to seek peaceful change.
Speaking to media, Jonathan said standing side by side with the family over the past 18 months was exhausting and emotional. Jonathan echoed the calls for judicial review mentioned by others at the rally.
Many took issue with peremptory challenges during jury selection, which allows lawyers on either side to reject a certain number of potential jurors without stating a reason. Many suggested Stanley’s defence lawyer intentionally used his challenges to remove any jurors who looked Indigenous from the jury.
It is not known if any jurors were Indigenous, but FSIN and Boushie's family say none were visibly Indigenous and believe that may have played a role in the verdict.
“Based on appearance, someone can look to you and say 'challenge,' I mean, you can’t do that,” Jonathan said. “Fighting for justice for Colten is also fighting for justice for all the First Nations that are in this situation. It is just bizarre how that would be a problem for anybody to want equal justice for all.”
The Boushie family is en route to Ottawa and, despite not making requests, Jonathan said they will likely land meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other high-level ministers.
“It is not a question, Canada has to do better,” she said.
According to Jonathan, throughout breaks in the trial, the family and their legal council compiled a list of concerns with the system and plan to make that public when they speak on Parliament Hill.
“We have seen rallies across Canada, and it is going to continue because the system has to change and individuals have to change,” she said. “We have to check ourselves, all of us. We need to have empathy for each other.”
Mayor Greg Dionne and Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller were also in attendance. Dionne said he was equally shocked at the verdict and the process in which it came about. He seconded comments from the chiefs calling for judicial reviews.
“We are supposed to be judged by our peers, so I have said to the government … make [equal representation on juries] a law,” Dionne said to applause. “Until we become one, there will be no reconciliation.”
He said with the new premier hailing from just up the road, Scott Moe “knows first-hand the struggles we face,” and urged people to make suggestions on how justice can be reformed, saying, “the government will listen.”
Dionne also took aim at hateful online comments and urged people not to “fall into that game … there are ugly things going on.”
“Please don’t fall into the social media trap. We are a peaceful, loving community,” he said. “We are watching. Our police force will prosecute anyone who crosses a line.”
At the event, it was also announced the PAGC will donate $10,000 to Boushie’s family to assist in any financial struggles. Grand Chief Hardlotte said giving to the family financially was simply, “the right thing to do.”
The Thunderchild First Nation also donated $5,000 to the family, spurred in part by the GoFundMe page that has been set up to support Stanley.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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