Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was shot and killed in the summer of 2016. Just a few days ago, the man who killed him walked away from a Battleford, Saskatchewan courthouse a free man.
This case has been widely publicized, with the hash tag “Justice for Colten” trending across the country. The reports in the media before, during and after the trial are telling of the controversial nature of the case. Nothing is quite as telling, however, as the comments in response to these reports.
Canada is known as a tolerant country; in comparison to our southern neighbours, we are considered friendly and accepting, and certainly not racist. And yet in this case much of the attention surrounding it is utterly steeped in racism. The ugly racial tensions that have gone unaddressed for too long have come to the forefront of conversation. One Globe and Mail reporter even compared the recent events to the famous Rodney King controversy in the United States.
In the many reports surrounding the case, it was noted that Boushie and his companions had been drinking, and had trespassed on Gerald Stanley’s property with the intention of theft. Stanley’s defence stated Boushie’s shooting was an accident: the result of a faulty weapon. Whether it was a faulty weapon, or an act of self-defence, Stanley shot Boushie in the back of the head, ultimately causing his death. An all-white jury decided Stanley was not guilty of second-degree murder.
The aftermath of this decision was particularly polarizing. While many were stricken with grief and injustice, shocking amounts of people were quick to spew racist, insensitive comments. Colten Boushie was not the first young man to spend an afternoon drinking with his friends, nor was he the first to trespass. And yet, many seem to think these actions make his death justified; as if his imperfection somehow makes his life less valuable.
Should you need a reminder: this man was someone’s son, someone’s boyfriend, someone’s brother. He was someone.
The move we have made as a society to dehumanize and to invalidate individuals so swiftly and with such ease is heart-breaking.
Several events have been held across the country in the passing days since the trial: vigils and protests and groups seeking appeal. Unfortunately, the racist comments were not reserved for the trial.
Many local attendees of the Colten Boushie event in Edmonton cited passersby laughing disrespectfully and pushing through the crowds while making comments about “lazy natives.”
This case is further proof that Canada is not quite as friendly, accepting, or innocent as our reputation may suggest. We have an ugly history that has morphed in to an ugly present.
Both our country and our justice system have a long way to go before we can reach reconciliation and combat racism. At the very least, let us be evolved enough to treat all people with humanity.
Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.