Country 'spit hatred' at Boushie family, lawyer says
SASKATOON -- Fighting through tears as she spoke publicly for the first time since a damning report highlighted how the RCMP treated the family following the shooting death of her son, Debbie Baptiste encouraged others facing discrimination to keep fighting.
“We were not going to be stuffed away,” Baptiste said at a media conference at the Dakota Dunes Casino and Hotel south of Saskatoon. “If Colten could hear me now, he’d be proud that we continued fighting and we never gave up.”
In August 2016, Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed on a rural property near Biggar owned by Gerald Stanley. Stanley was charged with second-degree murder in relation to Boushie’s death. A jury in North Battleford acquitted him.
But concerns had been raised about how police handled Boushie's death and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission studied the RCMP investigation.
The report, released March 20, details how the RCMP questioned Boushie's mother, Baptiste, about her sobriety, smelled her breath and looked inside her microwave to verify her statement that she had put her son's dinner there.
The commission found officers told Baptist to “get it together” after she collapsed on her front porch after officers informed her about the death of her son.
“I did not deserve to be treated the way I was treated and the RCMP to clear themselves of wrongdoing shows the injustice that continues and that needs to change,” Baptiste said.
In response to CRCC's report, Saskatchewan RCMP released a statement on Saturday saying it will commit to implementing the recommendations of the report.
Eleanore Sunchild, lawyer for the Baptiste family, said the RCMP showed a lack of compassion when they surrounded Baptiste’s trailer without a warrant and searched her house.
Sunchild applauded the work done by the CRCC noting how it uncovered how systemic racism set the narrative in this case.
“It's the family’s position that systemic racism has plagued this case since Colten was killed,” Sunchild said, adding how the original press release by the RCMP focused more on a property crime on the night Boushie was killed, rather than the killing itself.
“That set the entire tone for the country to spit hatred at Debbie and her family, to spit racism,” Sunchild said. “CRCC found the witnesses were held unreasonably, one witness speaks about how she was held in a cell with Colten’s blood still on her.”
Sunchild made a plea for the Government of Saskatchewan and the minister of justice to investigate all the online racism and hatred surfacing on social media in relation to the CRCC’s report.
“People are going to keep spitting their ugly racism at this family and it has to stop.”
Chief of the National Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde expressed his gratitude to the Baptiste family for fighting for the truth in this matter.
“This independent review clearly shows the discrimination you endured, it’s clear, the evidence is there,” Bellegarde said over Zoom.
“There’s so many things that went wrong," he said, referencing the fact that RCMP destroyed all its communications from the night of Boushie’s death.
According to the report, the commission had requested recordings and transcripts of phone calls and radio communications from that night.
However, RCMP replied that the records had no evidentiary value to the investigation and had been destroyed after two years as per RCMP document retention policies.
The commission said it was disappointed with that decision, noting the family’s complaint and the commission Chairperson’s complaint had been started before then.
“It is hard to stand up here and not be angry and not be hurt,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron.
“We need positive and immediate change and we need it right now.”
Standing alongside Baptiste, Cameron called for change to the Canadian justice system, from frontline officers, to judges and Crown prosecutors.
“This investigation confirmed what we knew all along,” Cameron said.
Cameron called on RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to fire those officers who discriminated against Baptiste the night they questioned her.
The National Police Federation (NPF) released a statement on Saturday, slamming the RCMP for accepting the recommendations, calling into question the methodology of the watchdog itself.
"These broad-brush findings about our Members – simply because they are police officers – is not constructive to reconciliation and does not even touch on the real issue here: the government's ongoing lack of investments and other supports for marginalized communities including Indigenous peoples," NPF said.
It also added the CRCC report "overlooks key facts and evidence" in the RCMP investigation of Boushie's death.