First Nations leaders, Civilian oversight call for changes after Stanley investigation review
- Fraser Needham and Dan Jones | March 27, 2021
First Nations leaders are demanding the RCMP take action in response to the long-awaited Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report which has found officers racially discriminated against Colten Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, when they notified her of her son’s shooting death on Gerald Stanley’s farm on August 9, 2016.
“In this report, there are so many mistakes the RCMP have made,” Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said at a March 22 news conference.
Eleanore Sunchild, the Boushie family lawyer, said the RCMP’s treatment of Baptiste was “disgusting.”
“They went into her trailer without a warrant,” she said. “They searched her house, illegally. When she fell to the floor, after they told her that her son was dead, they had the nerve to smell her breath. They told her to, ‘get it together.’ And they even checked the microwave, where she had put her son’s dinner, to make sure she was telling the truth. If that doesn’t speak to discrimination and racism, I don’t know what does.”
The report found officers, “compounded (Baptiste’s) suffering by treating her as if she was lying,” and by doubting her sobriety.
A line of questioning used by officers also suggested they believed Baptiste knew more about events leading up to the incident than she was letting on.
The report also found two constables displayed insensitivity when they showed up at Boushie’s wake to talk to the family about the investigation.
Speaking directly to Baptiste and other members of Boushie’s family, Bellegarde said, “We know there was no compassion shown to you. We know there was no respect shown to you. There’s no caring, there’s no kindness shown. There was a missed opportunity here by the RCMP to build a respectful relationship. And it was indeed missed.”
The civilian review was conducted after Boushie’s family and First Nations leaders alleged racism affected the RCMP investigation of the incident in which the 22-year-old Cree man died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Stanley was charged with second degree murder but was found not guilty of any charges by an all white jury at the 2018 trial.
The review found “unreasonable” RCMP conduct in: its interviewing the friends of the victim: their extended detention; failing to prevent Stanley’s family from discussing the incident before taking statements from them; waiting to arrest Stanley; failure to have sufficient forensic identification experts on call; failing to protect the crime scene; delays in arrival of officers to the scene; inadequate document handling and transfer of evidence; unreasonable three-day delay in contacting a blood spatter expert and inadequate police communications leading to errors and inefficiencies.
As RCMP officers surrounded and searched the Baptiste residence during the death notification, important work collecting and protecting evidence at the shooting scene was under-resourced, the CRCC report found.
The scene was not properly secured, leading to valuable evidence being lost in the rain.
The RCMP immediately treated Baptiste as a person of interest in the investigation without evidence to support the idea and searched her home without a warrant, but waited days before obtaining a search warrant for the Stanley farm, where the homicide occurred, the report found.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron agreed with a review recommendation for more cross-cultural training for officers.
He also called for better recruitment processes at the RCMP Depot in Regina to screen out applicants with racial bias and prejudice, promotion of more Indigenous officers into positions of authority and further strengthening of civilian oversight.
Cameron said the whole justice system needs to be changed, “from the judges, the Crown prosecutors, the RCMP to the correctional services officers.”
Cameron called on RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to terminate some officers involved to show Indigenous Canada the force takes the report seriously.
“What are you going to do, rather than say we agree with what’s been found? Big deal. Brenda Lucki, do something,” Cameron said.
The AFN and FSIN also called for RCMP changes such as zero tolerance for excessive use of force, use of officer body cameras and de-escalation training.
Sunchild said there should be legislation to address online hate speech that is too often posted to news stories about the case.
Boushie and four friends drove onto the Stanley farm in the late afternoon of August 9, 2016 with a flat tire. An occupant of the vehicle attempted to start an ATV in the farmyard near Biggar, Saskatchewan.
Stanley had said he believed the group was going to rob him so he ran and got a gun. He said he fired warning shots in the air and handgun misfired - the bullet that killed Boushie discharged after an exceedingly rare delay called a hangfire.
In a public statement, the RCMP said it agrees with many of the CRCC’s findings and Lucki has admitted there is racism in the force.