Chanting “Stop the hunt of Indigenous people” and “Shame on Canada,” about 200 people gathered in front of Halifax provincial court Saturday evening to protest the not-guilty verdict of Gerald Stanley, a 56-year-old Saskatchewan farmer accused of killing Indigenous man Colten Boushie, 22.
“Many, if not all Indigenous people across Turtle Island have been watching that case,” said Amanda Rekunyk, who organized the vigil. Turtle Island is an Indigenous term for North America.
People across Canada holding gatherings like this one calling for changes to justice system.
Boushie and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley’s property on Aug. 9, 2016.
Boushie was shot in the head after an altercation. Stanley testified the shooting was not intentional and his handgun accidentally went off. Expert witnesses testified the pistol was working properly and could only be fired by pulling the trigger.
Late Friday evening a jury acquitted Stanley.
“It seemed pretty apparent what happened, and our expectations were for a verdict of guilty of something, in the very least manslaughter,” said Rekunyk.
“It was gut-wrenching for a lot of people. It was enraging and it caused a lot of emotions. We can only imagine what Colten’s family is going through.”
Rekunyk said she was outraged at “every single level” of the justice system, including the RCMP’s investigation, the handling of the case by the Crown, and the jury selection process.
Court hears Colten Boushie’s DNA was on rifle barrel found near his body on Gerald Stanley farm
Colten Boushie’s family criticized the jury selection process for excluding potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous.
Rekunyk said the vigil on Saturday night is a chance for people upset by the verdict to share their thoughts.
‘Deck is stacked against us,’ says family of Colten Boushie after jury chosen for Gerald Stanley trial
“We will hold space and make space for the feelings. We’re going to pray, we’re going to smudge, we’re going to offer tobacco, really be together as a community in this emotional time,” she said.
It is also intended to send a message to the family of Colten Boushie.
“We love them and we care about Colten and the grief and the hole that’s left behind in their heart and home,” she said.
‘A sad day for justice’
Patti Doyle-Bedwell, Mi’kmaq woman and professor of Indigenous Studies at Dalhousie University, said the verdict was “a sad day for justice in this country.”
Doyle-Bedwell was one of the speakers at the the vigil.
“Reconciliation has died. All the work that we’ve done to try and get reconciliation going and try to create understanding and create bridges, it feels like today, it just died. And it is so unfair that the Boushie family doesn’t get justice for their son,” she said.
Doyle-Bedwell said she would like to see changes to the justice system.
“Whether it’s a trial, that we’re part of that jury, that we have a process in place that understands that we can’t allow racism and stereotypes to shift the decision making of a judge or an all-white jury,” said Doyle-Bedwell.
Gerald Stanley courthouse
Defence attorney Scott Spencer, right, and his client, Gerald Stanley, leave the Court of Queen’s Bench on the day of closing arguments. (The Canadian Press)
At the same time, a vigil will be held in Stewiacke at the site where demonstrators have been showing their opposition to a plan by a natural gas company to hollow out salt deposits for natural gas storage.
Dorene Bernard said people are invited to light candles and tie ribbons during a pipe ceremony and smudging.
“My heart really hurt for the family, for Colten. But I wasn’t shocked that was going to be the verdict. I was pretty well prepared for that. I really didn’t think it was going to be any other way. That’s the sad part,” she said.
Colten Boushie rally in Toronto
Protesters at a rally in Toronto drum to show their support for the family of Colten Boushie. (Colman Jones/CBC)
Bernard said she wants to see changes in the Canadian justice system, particularly in the jury selection process.
“This is what truth and reconciliation is all about. It’s about looking at the racism, and the things in society that have been happening all along. It’s time for us to address those issues.”