Canada must do better to combat racism in justice system


The Colten Boushie murder case has revealed that racism is more prevalent than it seems in Canada. Statements made on social media and news outlets since his death have indicated a complete disregard for humanity and a lack of compassion for Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste and her family.

Debbie Baptiste lost her youngest child in Colten. Imagine just for one moment that he was your child. How would you feel?

Baptiste’s devastation was made worse by how the RCMP treated her and how racist rhetoric escalated in the media.

It was established that Boushie and his friends were drinking and that they were trespassing. It is likely they were trying to steal and in that context the accused did have a right to protect his property. But was his life or that of his wife’s in danger? There are conflicting stories on both sides and we can only speculate.

What is true is that Boushie’s family members were victims of overt racism and systemic discrimination. Various reports including one by Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator (2012) indicate that systemic discrimination within the Canadian justice system is problematic.

Kathleen Mahoney, professor of law at the University of Calgary, in a telephone interview, suggested that the Canadian justice system is systemically flawed. She stated that the jury selection process was deeply flawed in the Boushie case noting, “Our laws require that juries be representative of the community ” and in this case “it was not. ”

An all-white jury acquitted George Stanley in a racially sensitive case in a community where racial tensions between First Nations and non-Native people exist. For this reason, Prof. Mahoney believes that officials had a responsibility to be “scrupulously careful ” to ensure that the entire community was properly represented in this process.

Mahoney explained that peremptory challenges in the jury selection process allow lawyers to dismiss potential jurors without reason. This “opens the door for lawyers to make judgments on potential jurors without considering their ability to make sound decisions. ”

Prosecutors, using peremptory challenges are likely to dismiss First Nations jurors if the defendant is First Nations but have the option to approve an all-white jury. To be fair, the defence also has peremptory challenges but people of colour and indeed First Nations people are in the minority.

A jury of his peers did not acquit Stanley. Juries need to represent all sections of a community. People of colour and First Nations were not represented on that jury and the Canadian justice system allows this. Prof. Mahoney stresses that “these are structural problems that need to be addressed. ”

As a First Nations person, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the justice minister of Canada, must tread carefully on what is an important issue: Justice Reform. Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have stated that Canada can do better and it has to. It is time to take action on systemic discrimination.

Now, did Stanley take a human life out of hate and anger? Or did his gun accidentally fire? Only he knows. What we do know is that a life was taken and that racist positions can supplant basic compassion.

My condolences got out to Ms. Baptiste and her family.


About Author

Trent Fox

Trent Fox is a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Interested in Indigenous issues since high school he has travelled to Australia and Africa to learn about the Aboriginal people and the Asante of Ghana. He earned his undergraduate degree in Native Studies at Brandon University. He has worked as a program administrator for the Wesley Band Administration for ten years, returning to school in 2012. In 2014 he earned his Masters of Education degree and is now a writer, author and doctoral candidate in education at the University of Calgary.