Panel discussion explores wider impacts of Stanley trial
- NC Raine | February 26, 2019
“This has been called the trial of the decade. Some call it the trial of the century. For certain, the impact of this trial will be felt for many years to come.”
In that opening statement Eleanore Sunchild, criminal lawyer with Sunchild Law, set the tone for an in-depth and integrated panel discussion at the University of Saskatchewan on the impacts of the Colten Boushie case in law, advocacy, and public perspectives. It's been about a year since Gerald Stanley was found not guilty of intentionally shooting the 22-year-old Boushie, and many people in the province are still at a loss trying to make sense of the verdict.
The trial may have concluded differently, Sunchild suggested, had there not been an all-white jury.
“I’ve seen how an Indigenous person, or two or three (...) can change the dynamic of a group, especially if there are stereotypes or racism involved,” she said. “They could challenge racist ideas.”
In the days that followed the trial, Sunchild said the victim’s family, held on to hope that our justice system was “fair and inclusive,” despite the provincial government deciding against an appeal, and despite family having little luck after requesting an investigation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur.
“They retain hope that they and others will continue to advocate for (...) and so many others who faced similar injustice so the justice system does not continue to exclude Indigenous people any longer,” she said. “I am hopeful that this case, the trial of Gerald Stanley, and the killing of Colten Boushie, has brought light to the racism and blatant discrimination that this family has faced.”
Estair Van Wagner, property lawyer at Osgood Hall Law School, explained how conceptions of property and trespass entered the case in problematic ways, namely how Stanley’s response to trespass with a firearm was not addressed or questioned through a defensive property analysis.
She also spoke on how narratives like the fear of property invasions, particularly from Indigenous youth, can shape the application of law.
“In the Stanley trial and the legal responses to it (a) version of rurality created a situation where Stanley belonged on the land and Boushie and his friends did not. In fact, Stanley’s property and things mattered more than they did,” said Van Wagner.
Likewise, journalist and producer Doug Cuthand noticed irregularities in the trial. While attending it as media, he said he noticed how the trial was conducted from a settler perspective, and was often insensitive culturally to Boushie’s family.
“Very often, valuable evidence was left out because our people refuse to give this kind of evidence (in respect for the deceased),” said Cuthand. “The defence played on the jury’s fears. They fed them a steady diet of fear by painting them as an uncontrollable group of young people.”
Cuthand, and many others, have argued that the trial and subsequent verdict has highlighted dangerous discrimination widespread both in our province and judicial system.
“It became apparent that we’re facing racial hatred in this province right on par with the southern United States or South Africa,” he said.
“The trial of Gerald Stanley and killing of Colten Boushie was a defining event for this province. It brought the issue of racism to stark reality, and in the end, the province of Saskatchewan was the one on trial.”