Watchdog to probe RCMP investigation of Boushie death
A federal agency charged with examining complaints against the RCMP has launched an investigation into the police force’s handling of Colten Boushie’s death.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP announced Tuesday the probe will look into the police investigation of Boushie’s death, officers’ notification of Boushie’s family, the search of Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste’s home and the RCMP’s media releases related to the case.
“The fact this gentleman died is a tragedy. It’s an unfortunate event, and what we’re hoping to do through our investigation is to shed light on how the RCMP conducted themselves at the time of the incident and in the investigation they conducted further to that,” Guy Bujold, the CRCC’s acting chairperson, told CTV News.
“Our hope at the end of the day is that, if we do our job right, we will enhance the credibility of policing in Canada and make everyone’s lives better by it.”
The agency’s chair launched the complaint and public interest investigation.
“The public interest investigations or the chairperson-initiated complaints are not something that we do often. We do it when there is a subject which is sufficiently significant and there is a broad public interest for us to conduct,” Bujold said.
The probe will determine whether the RCMP investigation was reasonable, whether officers’ responses followed protocol, whether RCMP guidelines are reasonable and whether the officers’ actions amounted to racial discrimination.
Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot in the head on Aug. 9, 2016, while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV that had been driven onto a farm near Biggar, Sask.
Saskatchewan RCMP said Tuesday it “welcomes” the CRCC investigation.
“The RCMP supports this independent, civilian review process and is committed to cooperating fully with the investigation,” a statement read. “Maintaining public trust and confidence is critical to providing an effective police service. We look forward to the process addressing any uncertainty or outstanding questions regarding our role in this matter.”
Boushie’s uncle, Alvin Baptiste, filed a complaint in December 2016 about the RCMP’s treatment of the family, and on Jan. 2 of this year, the uncle allowed the complaint to be referred to the CRCC for review.
He said Tuesday he was happy to hear the CRCC announcement. The federal watchdog is independent of the RCMP.
“We’re finally being heard. We’re finally getting somewhere,” Baptiste told CTV News.
His 2016 complaint alleged officers’ surrounding of Debbie Baptiste’s home the night of her son’s death “seemed out of the ordinary and was insensitive”; it claimed one officer told the mother to “get it together” after she fell to the floor upon learning of the death; it claimed the search of her home that night was illegal; it alleged a media release sent the next day by police “made Boushie look like a criminal”; and it brought up concerns with officers’ pursuits of vehicles near the scene of the fatal shooting.
An internal investigation by Mounties into the complaint found most of the allegations — all except the allegation officers put at least one woman, who was taken into custody at the scene, at risk by chasing two vehicles — could not be supported.
Chris Murphy, a lawyer for the Boushie family, questioned the RCMP's internal investigation following the release of the findings to the family.
"The RCMP was investigating the RCMP and concluded that the complaints were not founded," Murphy said.
The police service’s explanations in their letter to the family don't make sense, he added. Either police were there to notify Baptiste of her son's death or to search the house, the lawyer said. If officers were there for both reasons, he said they should have checked the home first.
"That's what you do first to protect, not only the police officers, but the people you're going to notify, because if there is a shootout, people can get caught in the middle of it," said Murphy.
"You don't notify the family first, and then ask for consent, and then go and search the residence, if you actually believe there's somebody inside with a firearm."
The 56-year-old man charged in Boushie’s death, Gerald Stanley, was found not guilty last month. It’s not disputed he caused the death, according to the judge who oversaw the trial. The verdict came down to whether or not the jury found Stanley caused the death unlawfully.
Stanley’s lawyer, Scott Spencer, described the shooting as a “freak accident.” He said the shot from Stanley’s gun was a hang fire — a delay between when the trigger is pulled and when the bullet fires.
Two of the five people who were with Boushie the day of the shooting testified the group was looking for help with a flat tire, but both Stanley and his son told court they believed someone from the SUV was attempting to steal an all-terrain vehicle from the yard.
CRCC findings are typically made public.
--- with files from The Canadian Press