The path to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples is proving to be a long and difficult journey. Injustices continue to surface.
Two disturbing examples over the past week demand changes in our criminal justice system. They show why Indigenous people believe there is a double standard in this country — one set of laws for aboriginals and another for everyone else.
A verdict last week in Saskatchewan shook Canada’s First Nations to the core. A jury acquitted a white farmer in the death of a young aboriginal man, Colten Boushie. The farmer shot and killed the 22-year-old during an incident on his farm. People expect that when a serious case goes to trial, the jury will representative of the population at large. The way the jury was selected, with the defence team using challenges to remove prospective jurors who appeared to be of Indigenous ancestry, suggests that wasn’t the case in Saskatchewan.
Equally disturbing were details presented Wednesday in Moncton before the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The family of a P.E.I. aboriginal woman, who died under suspicious circumstances more than 40 years ago, gave testimony to hammer home the message that her life mattered, that a mother matters and First Nations women matter.
The family didn’t get much co-operation about the death of Mary Francis Paul, who was found on the Charlottetown waterfront in 1977. The family was told that Ms. Paul had been found dead near the water and had a broken neck after falling. Police said there was no suggestion of foul play.
It was 12 years later before the family found out the body had been in a metal bin, which certainly raises serious suspicions.
Police should give the family a full account of the investigation. If the evidence warrants, the case should be re-opened and perhaps the family might finally get justice, some answers or closure.
Boushie’s family members met with the prime minister and the federal justice minister early this week. The PM later addressed the House of Commons to outline pending legislation changes to ensure that justice might finally come to Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. He vowed that going forward, recognition of rights will guide all government relations with Indigenous peoples.
It’s long past time that those hard-fought rights were recognized.
The Boushie family, despite their grief and anger, focused not on themselves in Ottawa, but on how to work together to make the system and our institutions better, such as reforming jury-selection rules and bail processes.
Indigenous peoples are getting impatient with federal promises. It’s time to move from words to action.
Indigenous Peoples have long been over-represented in the criminal justice system, whether as victims of crime or in jails. It’s time for juries, verdicts and court benches to be well represented with them as well.