By JOE FRIESEN
Saturday, February 10, 2018
BATTLEFORD, SASK. -- A case that became a flashpoint in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan ended Friday with the acquittal of Gerald Stanley.
The courtroom erupted with fury and cries of anguished disbelief Friday as the jury foreman announced the result of 15 hours of deliberation. Sheriff's deputies immediately rushed to protect Mr. Stanley, who ducked and flinched, as if he was being attacked. They grabbed Mr. Stanley by the arm and ran with him out of the courtroom as the crowd in the public gallery erupted and armed RCMP officers moved in between.
"You're a murderer. You murdered my son," cried Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie.
Mr. Stanley, 56, a farmer, had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation. Mr. Boushie's death sparked weeks of acrimony inflamed by debates on social media. The hate directed toward First Nations people prompted then-premier Brad Wall to call for an end to the racist comments.
For several minutes on Friday the courtroom was filled with shouting. Ms. Baptiste, who was sobbing even before the verdict was delivered, rocked back and forth on the wooden bench of the public gallery. Mr. Boushie's uncle, Alvin Baptiste, sat staring, breathing heavily, his fan of eagle feathers in his hand.
"I don't know what society is but I guess you can shoot people in the back of the head and get away with it. This ain't right, this ain't justice. The law system failed my family," said Jace Baptiste, Mr. Boushie's older brother as he left court.
On Aug. 9, 2016, Mr. Boushie, his girlfriend and three others set out for a day of swimming. The day ended in tragedy when Mr. Boushie was shot at close range by Mr. Stanley, who claimed it was a freak accident. The Crown said his story simply didn't add up.
Mr. Boushie and his friends woke up that morning on the Red Pheasant First Nation, about 90 minutes north of Saskatoon. The group included Eric Meechance, Kiora Wuttunee, Belinda Jackson and Cassidy Cross-Whitstone.
On the way home, Mr. CrossWhitstone was at the wheel when their car hit a culvert and punctured a tire. He pulled into a farm, where the men tried and failed to steal a truck. They then headed for Mr. Stanley's property.
Mr. Stanley and his son, Sheldon, now 28, were building a fence when they heard the Ford Escape pull into the yard. They ran to see what was happening, shouting as they went.
They saw two men jump back into the Escape, which quickly backed up and started to drive away. Sheldon Stanley said he was angry and swung a hammer that smashed the Escape's windshield. Mr. Stanley said he kicked a tail light.
As the vehicle drove away, with one tire missing, it veered into Mr. Stanley's car, crashed and came to a halt a few metres away. Mr. Stanley said he saw his son run toward the house and, afraid for his son's safety, he went to his shed to grab a semi-automatic handgun.
Mr. Stanley said he thought he loaded just two shells in the magazine. He walked back to the yard and fired two warning shots, saying he kept pulling the trigger to ensure the gun emptied. Mr. Meechance and Mr. Cross-Whitstone ran off, leaving Mr. Boushie and the two women in the vehicle.
Ms. Jackson testified she heard Mr. Stanley tell his son to go inside and get a gun. Then Mr. Stanley went to the shed and a few moments later approached the vehicle. Ms. Jackson said he fired the gun, hitting Mr. Boushie in the back of the head.
Mr. Stanley, in his testimony, said after he fired the warning shots he suddenly feared his wife was underneath the Escape, and sprinted to check on her. As he knelt down, he heard the engine revving and ran around to the driver's side to reach in with his left hand, which was holding the magazine, to turn off the ignition.
It was at that moment, he said, the gun went off accidentally. He said he never pulled the trigger.
His defence lawyer suggested it must have been a hangfire, particularly since the cartridge casing found inside the vehicle had an unusual bulge firearms experts could not reproduce.
A discrepancy in the story seized on by the Crown was that while Mr. Stanley said he ran up to the Escape to check on his wife, his son testified he saw his father walking up to the vehicle. The jury spent much of Friday listening again to the testimony of Mr. Stanley and his son.
Jade Tootoosis, Mr. Boushie's cousin, stood on the courthouse steps Friday with tears in her eyes to address the media.
"We will fight for an appeal and answers to all the racism that my family has experienced from the day Colten was shot until the jury returned the verdict of not guilty.
We will not stop our pursuit of justice," Ms. Tootoosis said.
Chris Murphy, the Boushie family lawyer, said they will be going to Parliament Hill next week to describe for lawmakers the systemic injustices that this case has revealed. "There is a darkness that exists in this country," Mr. Murphy said. "We are committed to work together to ensure the trial of Gerald Stanley and the death of Colten Boushie shine a light on this darkness."
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the umbrella group that represents Saskatchewan's First Nations chiefs, said it was disgusted by the verdict and called for an immediate inquiry into what it described as a gross miscarriage of justice. It decried the exclusion of Indigenous jurors in the jury selection process and "the lack of competence and effort of the prosecution."
"Justice has not been served and we are angry," said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. "It's been a very hard, painful journey for the Boushie family and there will be no closure or peace for a mother who's lost her son. We expected this, but now that it has happened, it's devastating to us all."
Bill Burge, the prosecutor, said the Crown respects the verdict, but will consider its options and weigh the possibility of appeal over the coming days.
"We presented all of the evidence that implicated Mr Stanley.
That was our role. We were there to present the evidence and we didn't leave anything out that would have made a difference.
There was nothing more that could be done," Mr. Burge said.
Chris Murphy, a lawyer representing the Boushie family, left, supports Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, outside of the Court of Queen's Bench after a jury delivered a verdict of not guilty in the trial of Gerald Stanley in Battleford, Sask.
LIAM RICHARDS/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Colten Boushie was 22 when he was fatally shot in 2016.