Saturday, February 03, 2018

Boushie trial shows Saskatchewan's racist underbelly

The Colten Boushie murder trial in Sasketchewan is bringing some of the seamy racist underbelly of the province out into the light.
Northern Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley is accused of shooting dead young 22-year old indigenous man Colten Boushie, after the latter trespassed onto the farmer's land. This occurred out in the boonies near the town of Battleford, an area with a particularly checkered history of racial tensions dating back to before Confederation. And the trial, which is only just beginning, has brought some of the worst elements of that tension to the fore. The Internet has lit up with scary comments like the suggestion aired on Facebook that Stanley's "only mistake was leaving witnesses", and some vocal support for Stanley from a shadowy group called Farmers With Guns. You can just imagine.. Not that Boushie and his buddies were exactly angels - they were trying to steal Stanley's ATV at the time - but this just does not sound very Canadian to me.
Stanley's counsel insists that the trial is "not a referendum on racism", but the town is now surrounded by a heavy police presence, and many commentators are warning that street violence is by no means out of the question as both the indigenous and non-indigenous population nurse their various grievances.
The early proceedings of the trial do not bode well. A huge pool of 750 potential jurors were called, although only 204 of these actually showed up, partly a reflection of the huge distances covered by the jury region, as well as the poverty of many of its rural inhabitants, both indigenous and non-indigenous. The defence then proceeded to throw out any candidates who looked even vaguely indigenous, something they are apparently well within their rights to do without explanation or appeal according to the system of "peremptory challenges" built into the legal system - leading a relative of Boushie to comment that "the decks are stacked against us".
Certainly, if Stanley is found not guilty, the local indigenous population - already highly skeptical about the legal and police treatment they have received over the years - will be up in arms. And even if he is found guilty, the best the area can look forward to is a rather fractious status quo.

Well, guess what, Gerald Stanley has been found not guilty of the murder of Colten Bouchie. Most of the courtroom, the indigenous population of Canada, social media, and a good proportion of the rest of the country, reacted with bewilderment and anger as the jury foreman announced the decision. Stanley was immediately protected by the sheriff's deputies and rushed out of the room pronto.
Doubtless, there will be recriminations, demonstrations and quite possibly violence as a result of the stunning and controversial decision. But possibly not as much violence as would have ensued if the decision had gone the other way. That's about the best that can be said of this execrable situation. That and the fact that the whole system of peremptory challenges is likely to finally come under the microscope.

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