OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met on Tuesday with the family of an aboriginal man who was slain by a white farmer after a not-guilty verdict in the high-profile case triggered widespread calls for changes to Canada’s justice system.
Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, was acquitted on Friday in the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie, 22, who was killed on Stanley’s farm. Boushie was a Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation in the province of Saskatchewan.
Protesters have criticized the absence of indigenous people on the jury and the defense’s use of pre-emptive challenges to exclude Aboriginals from the jury.
Trudeau met with Boushie’s mother, cousin and other extended family members on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. His family met with senior cabinet ministers on Tuesday and Monday.
“Everyone we’ve talked to has been very engaged, respectful and took the time to hear our pain, hear our strength, and hear us speak from the heart, including Prime Minister Trudeau, and for that we’re very appreciative,” Jade Tootoosis, a cousin of Boushie, told reporters outside of the House of Commons.
“The most significant thing is that there was a general consensus that there are systemic issues regarding indigenous people and the judicial system and that each person has promised to work with us to make concrete changes within the system. And that’s exactly what we came here for.”
“As the Prime Minister has said, our hearts go out to Colten Boushie’s family, his mom Debbie, his friends, and the entire community, and today’s meeting was an important opportunity for him to listen to the family,” Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, said in an email.
The court heard that Stanley, who had been in his yard with his wife and son on Aug. 9, 2016, when Boushie and four friends drove onto the farm, fired three bullets during an altercation with them. The last bullet struck Boushie in the head, killing him.
Stanley’s defense team said the shooting was accidental.
The prosecution said Boushie and his friends had gone to the farm for help after a tire on their vehicle went flat. The defense said they were attempting to steal a vehicle from the farm.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the most high-profile aboriginal person in Trudeau’s Liberal government, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who overseas the police force that investigated the case, met with Boushie’s family on Tuesday.
Wilson-Raybould told reporters that jury selection methods were under review as part of the government’s reform of the criminal code and promised that details of reforms would soon be released.
“The reality of the Boushie family coming here (to Ottawa), and the elevation of the national consciousness on the challenges and systemic barriers that marginalized people face in the criminal justice system, is very welcome in terms of individuals, Canadians, across the country calling for change,” Wilson-Raybould said after the meeting.
Goodale said an independent panel was reviewing how the case was handled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who have been criticized for focusing on reports of attempted thefts of vehicles by Boushie and his friends instead of the murder case against Stanley.
Opposition Conservatives accused Trudeau of political interference for tweeting on Friday after the verdict, “I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling tonight. Sending love to them from the US.”
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins)