By now you all know the sad story of Colten Boushie.
Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was (as the court has now ruled by implication) accidentally killed in an altercation by Gerald Stanley at the Stanley family farm on August 9th, 2016.
The prosecution decided to pursue the higher charge of 2nd-degree murder, as opposed to just manslaughter, but ultimately came up short.
The reactions to the verdict were varied and widespread with everyone from the Boushie family to the Attorney General and Prime Minister weighing in asking for change and saying “we must do better.”
Many First Nations groups from across the country put out calls for justice and widespread judicial change. Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) even went so far as to call upon the federal government to develop an “anti-racism plan and strategy.”
However, not all First Nations people reacted the same way.
Edmonton city councillor Aaron Paquette refused to make a statement specifically on the verdict citing potential interference in a future appeal.
Instead, Paquette criticized the Prime Minister’s comments saying that they “accomplish nothing” and do not help the cause of justice.
Paquette instead called for leadership and an open mind in dealing with these complex problems.
Two Ways Indigenous Leaders Responded
This response from Paquette is an honourable and mature one which demonstrates an understanding of the many factors which are part of the relationship between Indigenous Canadians and the justice system.
To blanketly call the Canadian justice system racist is a foolish and lazy response from a leader such as Bellgarde and not the one that is needed.
While his and the broader First Nation’s frustration with the verdict are very understandable, merely blaming the decision on systemic racism and implying that an all-white jury is not able to make an unbiased and fair judgment is not the answer.
Instead, cooler heads must prevail.
Meaningful reforms must be looked into, debated on their merit and implemented where needed. Canadians of all stripes must come together to do better in this regard.
The current system, while not perfect, is certainly not rife with systemic racism and bigotry towards Indigenous people. The reasons for a higher proportion of Indigenous incarcerations are multiple and varied, not the least of which being the complete breakdown of the Indigenous family structure thanks to residential schools and substance abuse issues.
However, one thing that both sides of this issue should be able to agree on is the fact that this problem of high incarceration rates for Indigenous Canadians exists, and it is something that needs to be addressed.
What the solution is — I don’t have the answer for that.
All I know is that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, open dialogue and multi-pronged approach with input from all sides to solve the current scenario many First Nation people find themselves in today.
Steer Clear Of Identity Politics
While I commend the Prime Minister for his efforts in the area of reconciliation, I fear he may do more harm than good. While it is perfectly acceptable to recognize and talk about the differences between various groups, Prime Minister Trudeau must be very careful that he does not go down the identity politics route of President Obama.
Obama was elected in part, with the hope of improving race relations in the US. Instead, he had much the opposite effect. According to a New York Times/CBS Poll, in 2009, two-thirds of Americans viewed race relationships as good.
Fast forward through 8 years of an Obama presidency filled with race riots, controversy surrounding police conduct towards black Americans and the Presidents various comments on that, not to mention the rise of Black Lives Matter, and you have yourself an American public that has now completely flipped with over two thirds (69%) saying that race relations are not good.
Trudeau himself was elected on a promise of “Real Change”, particularly when it came to the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Canadians.
However, with comments such as “we must do better”, the Prime Minister leaves Canadians with the impression that an all-white jury is not capable of reaching an honest judgement without letting the race of the victim cloud their judgement.
It’s remarks like these, however well-intentioned, that divide Canadians and work against the cause of true reconciliation.
Given the sensitive and emotionally charged atmosphere around this case and Indigenous relations in general, Prime Minister Trudeau must choose his words carefully and not come across as impugning racist motives to others where there is no evidence of any.
Canadians Need Leadership From The PM
Everyone realises the situation Indigenous Canadians find themselves in today is not satisfactory. Virtually every Canadian agrees on this; it should not be a partisan issue. The conflict lies in how to approach and solve this complex issue.
It is up to the Prime Minister to show real leadership on this file. Hard work needs to be done to make sure that all voices are heard from and that meaningful and common sense reforms are enacted which serve to improve the lives of Indigenous Canadians and don’t divide Canadians along racial lines.
It’s not going to be easy, and it certainly won’t be quick, but it must happen. Canadians, regardless of race, know the situation needs to change and want to help. They just need to know how.
If you are really serious about reconciliation Mr Trudeau, your time is now. Get to work.