official uggs Repairing relations in rural Canada
More than a week after a controversial not guilty verdict in the shooting death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan, questions continue to gnaw at Clint Wuttunee, chief of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation: Why didn RCMP do a better job of securing the crime scene? And why did they treat Boushie family and friends so insensitively in the immediate aftermath?
Veteran ranchers Rick and Gail Kehler, who closely followed the trial of fellow farmer Gerald Stanley thinking all the while it could have been them in his shoes have a different question for the Mounties: Why weren Boushie friends charged with any offences?
The case has exposed deep divisions across rural communities and sparked heated debates over the need for criminal justice reform, but Canada national police force has not escaped the maelstrom. Indigenous and non Indigenous residents alike continue to have pointed questions over the way RCMP carried out their investigation, and there is no doubt the force next commissioner expected to be announced soon will be forced to find ways to repair what some residents say is a broken trust.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is keen to appoint a woman or someone with experience on the Indigenous file to take the helm of the force.
RCMP is in a very difficult position, said Glen Luther, a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan. have farmers complaining about under policing and you tend to have an Indigenous population complaining about over policing.
On Feb. 14, APTN News reported that a Mountie posted a message about the Boushie case in a private Facebook group that stood to inflame the tensions. The message read: bad the kid died but he got what he deserved.
RCMP spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan said, Feb. 15, the post was to the standards of the force and being investigated. The RCMP is to the reconciliation process with Indigenous peoples, and improving upon these relationships in every way possible, she said.
Boushie, 22, died after being shot in the head on Stanley farm in August 2016. The trial heard that Boushie and a group of friends had been drinking earlier that day and ended up with a flat tire. They tried breaking into a truck on another farm before going onto the Stanley property.
Stanley, who was acquitted of second degree murder, had told the court that the shooting was accidental.
Boushie relatives have previously complained that when police showed up at their home to notify them of his death, officers treated them insensitively and carried out an unlawful search of the home.
An internal RCMP investigation ultimately dismissed the allegations after concluding that officers were in a situation wherein they were tasked with notifying Boushie family of his death while also actively searching for a witness who had fled the crime scene.
The family has now asked the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to review the file. Chris Murphy, a lawyer for the family, said it clear to him police could done a better job of thinking in advance how to approach Boushie mother, Debbie Baptiste, in a sympathetic manner.
Without such forethought, he said, not thinking about (the family feelings. They devalued.
During trial, court heard of other alleged missteps by police. Investigators, for instance, had allowed the vehicle in which Boushie had been shot to sit exposed in a rainstorm with a door ajar,
potentially washing away evidence. Court also heard that the same vehicle was released to an impound lot before the defence team even had a chance to examine it.
is the family supposed to think when these missteps are happening time and time again? Is any reasonable observer going to suggest to the Baptiste family that they should trust the police? Murphy said.
don know if it resource issue or a competency issue. It one of the two.
RCMP officials in Saskatchewan and at headquarters declined interview requests from Postmedia. In written statements, they said they could not discuss the specific allegations, citing the ongoing review by the RCMP watchdog and the fact the Crown may appeal the not guilty verdict.
The statements, however, went on to say that RCMP members meet regularly with national Indigenous organizations to discuss ways to prevent crime and reduce victimization of Indigenous people. In Saskatchewan, the commanding officer has an Aboriginal advisory committee and regularly consults with chiefs and councils.
When cadets join the training academy, classroom exercises cover Indigenous rights and culture, officials said. A new interactive exercise exposes cadets to Indigenous history and gives them a sense of the loss, suffering and discrimination experienced by Indigenous people following European settlement.
All new members are also expected to take an online Aboriginal and First Nations awareness course that covers Indigenous history, geography and contemporary issues, officials said.
The force has also been working with the Assembly of First Nations to develop recruiting strategies. Currently, there are 1,500 Indigenous officers on the force, representing about eight per cent of the officer ranks.
Kim Jonathan, vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, said this week she is encouraged by these efforts but said more needs to be done. She cited former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledgement in 2015 at an Assembly of First Nations conference that are racists in my police force.
it enough? No, absolutely not, she said.
Wuttunee agrees. Feelings of resentment and distrust toward the RCMP continue, he said. And the over representation of aboriginals in Canada prisons reflects ongoing subjugation of Indigenous people that goes back to the days of the North West Mounted Police.
want to keep the control over us and keep us down, he said.
What needed isn more training but better of RCMP officers in Indigenous communities they serve, Murphy said.
(supervisors) are managing their members, they have to make sure it part of the daily routine. You ask the question, did you do today to make an Indigenous person trust police more? he said.
are deep seated feelings here that have to be changed.
Meanwhile, rural Saskatchewan farmers say they, too, have been feeling neglected by police, but for a different reason.