It’s been a difficult time for justice in Canada.
There was outrage over the acquittal of St. John’s police constable Carl Douglas Snelgrove, who was accused of sexual assault, to the acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi, a Halifax taxi driver charged with sexually assaulting an unconscious female passenger (now successfully appealed, with a retrial ordered).
And the list goes on.
There was the acquittal of three Toronto police officers on sexual assault charges in the case of a parking enforcement officer after a night of “initiation” drinking, to the 2015 acquittal of Bradley Barton of murder charges in the death of Cindy Gladue. (The Gladue case has also been successfully appealed.)
Opponents say the repeated cases suggest the Canadian justice system isn’t fair to women in sexual assault cases, and even less so to indigenous Canadians.
This past week was no different.
A difficult-to-comprehend not guilty verdict in the Colten Boushie murder trial in Saskatchewan only adds to the number of cases that have some Canadians asking if our justice system really does offer justice to all Canadians.
Boushie died after being shot in the head by Gerald Stanley. Stanley, a white farmer, was acquitted of all charges, including manslaughter. The defence in the case appeared to be trying to keep visibly indigenous people off the jury. Boushie, a 22-year-old indigenous man, was from the Red Pheasant First Nation; the vehicle he was driving had a flat tire, and he and his friends drove onto a farm and attempted to steal an ATV.
A fracas ensued, and Stanley — who had gone to get, and loaded, a handgun — shot and killed Boushie.
While you might understand a jury being unable to convict Stanley of murder, it’s harder to understand how he could be found not to have committed manslaughter.
The decision has led to both outrage and protests.
On Twitter, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted condolences to the Boushie family, tweets that seemed to suggest they also found the verdict difficult to accept.
“I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do better — I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians,” Wilson-Raybould wrote.
There are clear indications that there are gaps in the Canadian justice system that have to be addressed, from the composition of juries to the way that judges are educated about sexual assault to the courts’ understanding of what constitutes the ability to legally consent, to the treatment of indigenous Canadians by the court system.
By all means, campaign for change.
Canada’s justice system will follow that direction, albeit slowly.
Change is possible, but it’s not as simple as merely throwing out everything we do now and replacing the justice system with something brand new and magically fair to all.
It’s a long road. But it is clearly well past time to start down it.