Home NEWS World A Murder Trial Stirs Emotions About Canada’s Relations With Its Indigenous Population

A Murder Trial Stirs Emotions About Canada’s Relations With Its Indigenous Population

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For the past 17 months, the case has been hotly debated in Battleford, stirring deep feelings here about the treatment — both past and present — of the province’s Indigenous population.

Mr. Stanley’s supporters have used the episode to call for American-style “stand your ground” self-protection laws. Meanwhile, online vitriol has exposed the province’s divide between the Indigenous and non-Native communities with a torrent of overtly racist comments that led to a call from the province’s premier for everyone to “rise above intolerance.”

Ben Kautz, a member of the municipal council in Browning, Saskatchewan, wrote, under his full name, in a Facebook page for farmers, now defunct, that Mr. Stanley’s “only mistake was leaving three witnesses.” He has since stepped down from the council.

At the same time, many non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan view Mr. Boushie’s death as an injustice, including a group that stood in front of the courthouse on Thursday in bone-chilling cold holding signs and banners calling for justice.


Gerald Stanley, center, arriving at court on Thursday. Mr. Stanley is has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Boushie.

Amber Bracken for The New York Times

Mr. Boushie’s family and their supporters are angry about the police inquiry, which they call flawed and inadequate, contending that it initially focused more on the actions of the five young Indigenous people than on the killing of Mr. Boushie. They also say the case has exposed a lack of progress made in Mr. Trudeau’s reconciliation effort.

“If we are making progress why would it have exploded so much when he got shot?” Jade Tootoosis, Mr. Boushie’s cousin, asked the other day in the living room of their grandmother’s house at Red Pheasant. “I pity them because I don’t understand why they feel so much hate for someone they don’t know.”

Eleanore Sunchild grew up in the Thunderchild Cree First Nation north of Battleford. Now she runs a legal practice in town that specializes in resolving claims by former pupils of mandatory boarding, or residential, schools the federal government established in the 19th century.

In 2015 a national truth and reconciliation commission found the program to be “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people. Saskatchewan had more of the notorious schools than any other province, which both the commission and Ms. Sunchild blame for destroying Indigenous families for generations.

Ms. Sunchild, 45, said her home province was the national laggard on reconciliation.

“Saskatchewan is just beginning, I don’t even know if we have really started on reconciliation,” she said. “I’m not saying that Indian people deserve a break because we’ve been victimized. I’m saying that both sides have to take accountability and responsibility for what got us into this situation in the first place.”


Members of Mr. Boushie’s family, Verna Denny, left, Alvin Baptiste and Jade Tootoosis, at Ms. Denny’s house in the Red Pheasant Cree Nation.

Amber Bracken for The New York Times

The area is also an outlier on crime. Using data from Statistics Canada, a government agency, Maclean’s magazine found that North Battleford, Battleford’s sister community across the North Saskatchewan River, is the most dangerous place in Canada.

Car theft is common, and farmers in the sparsely settled region complain about agonizingly slow wait times for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to arrive. A Facebook group, Farmers With Firearms, appeared after Mr. Boushie’s death to call for allowing citizens to arm themselves, and also to support Mr. Stanley’s actions on that fateful day.

Last year, an association of rural municipalities in Saskatchewan passed a resolution asking the federal government to expand self-defense laws.

Both groups say their efforts are directed against criminals, not Indigenous people.

Alvin Baptiste, Mr. Boushie’s uncle, gave a tour of Red Pheasant to visitors this week. He acknowledged that some of the reserve’s young people, along with white youths in the area, passed too much of their time with drinking, drugs and petty crime. For that he blamed the lack of job opportunities since the decline in oil prices, the lingering effects of the residential schools on families and the general dysfunction of the reserve.

A relatively new and well-maintained school is an exception in the area. No footprints lead through the snow to a hockey arena seemingly too large for the 500 or so people who live there. Money and energy to keep it operating ran out some time ago.


A farmyard between Saskatoon and Battleford, near where Mr. Boushie was killed.

Amber Bracken for The New York Times

Pointing to the community center across the street, Mr. Baptiste said that its basketball programs had stopped and that the building was used only for wakes and ceremonial occasions. Next to it are the abandoned gas pumps and building of what had been Red Pheasant’s only store.

“There’s nothing much to do on this reserve, there’s nothing for them,” he said, referring to young people.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that the group in the car, while driving on a flat tire, had tried to steal a car at another farm before going to the Stanleys. In court, Mr. Stanley’s lawyer acknowledged that a toxicology report showed that Mr. Boushie was “so impaired it’s hard to believe that he could function at all.”

Chris Murphy, a lawyer retained by the Boushie family, said that a junior constable was initially put in charge of the investigation, forensic experts were not brought in and the car in which Mr. Boushie died was left uncovered, its doors open, for two rainy days, washing away evidence.

The police force declined to comment.

Mr. Stanley testified at trial that he grabbed his semiautomatic pistol to fire two warning shots. He said he was trying to turn off the engine of the car the men were driving while holding the pistol when the fatal bullet fired in what he testified was a complete surprise.

Experts brought in by Mr. Stanley’s lawyer said that on rare occasions, bullets can briefly linger inside guns and rifles after a trigger is pulled — although neither those experts nor ones with the police were able to recreate the flaw using Mr. Stanley’s gun and ammunition.

For Ms. Tootoosis, the social media hatred prompted by the killing of her cousin may also prove to be his legacy.

“Ultimately Coco’s death needs to have a purpose,” she said using the family’s nickname for Mr. Boushie. “It’s brought to light such a divide, and the question now isn’t what is the government do about it, what are the courts going to do about it? It’s, ‘What am I going to do about it?’ ”

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