Moving forward: Law experts weigh in on Stanley case conversation
A University of Saskatchewan law professor says while the criminal process in the Gerald Stanley trial is over, it’s important to keep the conversation going to determine what can be learned from the case.
A Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench jury acquitted Stanley on Feb. 9 in the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie. Assistant Deputy Attorney General Anthony Gerein, the head of the Ministry of Justice’s public prosecutions office, announced Wednesday the Crown will not appeal the jury’s decision.
Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association President Nicholas Stooshinoff says the numerous false pieces of information circulating about the case are a “prescription” for distress and conflict in society.
There are allegations Colten Boushie was in a gang, for example. A photo of a man with gang affiliation, who isn’t Boushie, is making its rounds online. However, there is no evidence to show Boushie was in a gang.
Another example: there are statements Stanley was arrested then sent home before being interviewed by RCMP. A court document from the case states Stanley was arrested for murder on Aug. 9 at 6:53 p.m., slept in cells, and was interviewed around 1:42 the following afternoon.
University of Saskatchewan law professor Glen Luther says the conversation should instead be about what can be learned from the case.
“Changing the facts or saying something else is not going to change that result. It’s talking, I guess, about the wrong thing,” he says. “How do we do better next time? How does the justice system improve itself going forward? How do the police improve themselves going forward?”
Law professor calls for jury reform
Luther says the case proves change is necessary within the justice system. He says he would like to see a more transparent jury selection process and more Indigenous representation on jury pools and panels. He says without Indigenous people on the jury there can be a perception of bias.
“It's not just about the Boushie case. It's about Saskatchewan,” he says. “It’s about the issues that we have to face going forward. And if we can use this case as a flashpoint for change, then so much for the better.”
He also says there’s a concern from landowners about rural crime that needs to be addressed and questions as to whether RCMP are properly equipped to police rural Saskatchewan.
Luther says it’s all part of a bigger push toward restorative justice and to work toward lowering the Indigenous incarceration rate in Saskatchewan.
He says the verdict struck a chord with him personally and caused him to rethink what he’s done in his legal career. He’s now urging others who work in the legal system to think about the profession.
“It’s difficult to criticize your own but at some point it becomes a real issue,” he says. “It’s time for careful thought and rethinking of how we practice and what we do.”
Lawyer hesitant to see change
Stooshinoff says he'd be reluctant to see changes made to the justice system without more exploration, including ensuring more Indigenous people sit on juries.
He says a change to having separate pools for Indigenous and non-Indigenous jurors runs the risk of furthering a sense of polarization.
“You have Aboriginals with one jury. You have whites with another jury. What about other people? What about other races? Shouldn’t other races have a proportionate representation on the jury panel? It becomes an impossible task,” he says.
Stooshinoff notes some are outraged by the perception the jury was biased because all potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous were challenged by the defence and therefore not able to sit on the jury. He says there’s no way to know if a different jury composition would have changed the verdict.
“If the allegation is that the jury was biased in the Stanley case, that’s really a personal opinion because we have not seen any evidence to suggest that the jury was biased,” he says.
Stooshinoff says the system has served the public well and instead of making changes, there should be more education, familiarity and discussion about the legal system.