The acquittal of Gerald Stanley – the white Saskatchewan farmer accused of shooting and killing 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie, in August 2016 – has prompted nationwide debate about how the Canadian justice system handles cases involving Indigenous people.
Near the centre of this issues is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has faced significant criticism for appearing to question the jury’s decision in the case and asserting that Canada must “do better” in the future.
Now, a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians divided on the jury’s “not guilty” verdict in the case, but considerably more likely to see Trudeau’s comments as inappropriate than appropriate, given the context.
Fewer than one-in-three Canadians (32%) say the Prime Minister was right to weigh in on the jury’s decision, while nearly half (46%) say doing so was inappropriate. The rest (22%) are uncertain.
On the verdict itself, Canadians are roughly as likely to say the jury’s decision was “good and fair” (30% say this) as they are to say it was “flawed and wrong” (32%). The largest number – 38 per cent – are unsure.
Asked to choose between two statements on the jury-selection process – during which defence lawyers prevented any Indigenous-looking potential jurors from being selected, 59% of respondents agreed that the rules should be reformed to “ensure juries reflect the whole community better.”
The poll also found “significant” regional differences when it comes to the outcome of the case.
Saskatchewan residents, especially, are overwhelmingly in agreement that the jury’s decision was fair, that Trudeau’s comments inappropriate, and that jury reform is unnecessary.
Gerald Stanley was charged with second-degree murder for his role in Boushie’s death.
He testified that he didn’t intend to shoot anyone, but had grabbed his gun to fire warning shots that he hoped would scare off the five people who had driven their vehicle onto his property.
He claimed that his gun went off in his hand accidentally, and the shot hit Boushie in the head.
Legal experts have suggested that the jury’s decision may have come down to a lack of certainty about Stanley’s intent and about what exactly happened during the altercation on his farm – uncertainty fed in part by witnesses for the prosecution who changed their stories.
Since the “not guilty” verdict, much has been made of the fact that the jury did not include any visibly Indigenous people, despite the fact that one-in-ten Indigenous people in Canada live in Saskatchewan, and 22% of the population of North Battleford – where the trial was held – is Indigenous.
In the hours and days after the jury delivered its verdict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould repeatedly expressed sympathy toward the Boushie family and suggested that Canada’s justice system “can and must do better.”
Less than a week after the verdict, after meetings with the family, the ministers said they intend to introduce reforms aimed at tackling “systemic issues” in the justice system’s treatment of Indigenous people.