There was a much justified outpouring of anger in the past few weeks with the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier, who were accused of killing Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine in separate cases in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively.
These not guilty verdicts show that instead of relying on the criminal justice system and politicians to bring about reconciliation, Canada needs a change of culture.
There was also anger at the federal government for criticising the verdicts and offering support to Boushie and Fontaine’s families.
The government was perceived to be interfering in the judicial process, which it was feared may prejudice a jury if the cases get appealed.
Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, no Conservative himself, called Trudeau’s remarks after the Stanley acquittal “borderline inappropriate.”
Of course, like almost anything the prime minister does, his remarks that “We have to do better” in the wake of the Stanley acquittal was carefully crafted for political gain.
Thus the prime minister was able to paint himself as a champion of indigenous rights, while the courts are to blame for their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Yet what actions has Trudeau meaningfully taken to address the plight of indigenous Canadians?
It’s undoubtedly true, as Trudeau said, “that there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system that we must address.”
While aboriginals comprise a mere four per cent of Canada’s population, they make up 26 per cent of its prisoners.
Yet when people, whether settler or indigenous, are put on trial for their murder, they’re often acquitted on the flimsiest of pretexts, as was clearly the case in the Stanley verdict.
Stanley’s defence team claimed that when the accused shot Boushie in the back of the head, it was a tragic mistake resulting from “hang fire,” when a gun fires off an extra shot without pulling the trigger.
But Stanley testified that he emptied the gun’s clip after firing the two initial rounds.
No clip, no hang fire.
To the all-white jury, the mere mention of hang fire was enough to sow the seeds of reasonable doubt, despite its physical improbability.
The Cormier case was a bit more nuanced.
The duvet Fontaine’s remains were found in was the same as one owned by Cormier, three witnesses testified.
But, as his defence pointed out, there are thousands of that style of duvet in existence and no forensic data linked it to Cormier.
During an undercover investigation that was surreptitiously recorded, Cormier said there’s a young woman in a “grave someplace screaming at the top of her lungs for me to finish the job. And guess what? I finished the job.”
This sounds an awful lot like a confession, one which was uncoerced.
His defence, however, argued that there was no mentioned of Fontaine’s name, nor any specific individual, in the recording.
They argued that since there was no murder scene, Fontaine could have died from a drug overdose.
An autopsy found marijuana in her system, but nobody has ever died from smoking too much pot, let alone found wrapped in a duvet held down by rocks in a river after a bad trip.
In both cases, it appears that Boushie and Fontaine, rather than Stanley and Cormier, were the ones on trial.
This is reflective of a societal attitude that places low value on indigenous lives, demonstrating the need for white Canadians to change their attitudes before true reconciliation can begin.
Just don’t rely on politicians to get that job done.