‘I was in shock’: Chief says FSIN will be asking for new trial, feds to intervene after Stanley verdict
Reaction to the verdict in the Gerald Stanley case has been flooding in from across Saskatchewan.
Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie on Friday night. The 22-year-old from the Red Pheasant First Nation died of a gunshot wound to the head on Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016.
Sitting in a Queen’s Bench courtroom in Battleford, a jury found Stanley not guilty of all charges.
“I was in shock,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron. “Absolute shock. I compare it to the way I felt when I lost one of my loved ones.”
Stanley was charged after Boushie was shot during an altercation between Stanley’s family and a group of young people who had driven onto his rural property. The case quickly became a symbol of racial conflict in Saskatchewan.
Shortly after the verdict, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe issued a statement asking for calm.
“I would urge everyone to be measured in their reaction,” read the statement. “Let us all remember our personal responsibility for our thoughts, our actions, and our comments – including those on social media.”
Cameron said there would likely be protests and rallies in the near future, and the FSIN would be asking for a new trial and for the federal government to intervene.
“This is not going to go away any time soon,” he said. “Something has to happen. The federal government has to happen.”
‘I compare it to the way I felt when I lost one of my loved ones.’ – Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron
The chief also voiced his concerns about Crown prosecutor Bill Burge. During the trial’s preliminary hearing, the family asked that Burge be replaced with another lawyer.
“We knew this Crown prosecutor would be absolutely incapable of handling such a high profile case,” he said. “Watching him in the courtroom, he was humdrum. He wasn’t passionate and didn’t take pride in his work.”
Community in ‘absolute shock’
Reaction was swift across Saskatchewan’s Indigenous community.
“It’s exploding on social media,” said John Lagimodiere, publisher of newspaper Eagle Feather News. “It’s almost unbelievable…The community is in absolute shock.”
Lagimodiere said the verdict could set reconciliation efforts back years.
“Trust is a big part of that relationship,” he said. “And when you see things like this, with the perceived lack of Indigenous people on the jury, with all the evidence we heard and Colten Boushie is dead and nobody is guilty of anything, it kind of sets us back.”
Cameron took the point even further.
“(Reconciliation) has totally failed,” he said. “It has failed First Nations people right across this country.”
Trial of the decade
Lawyer Brian Pfefferle has been following the case from the outset, and said this trial quickly grew outside the boundaries of a normal trial.
“It’s the biggest case in the ten years I’ve been practicing,” he said. “The number of people that were interested in this case dwarfs many of the cases that I’ve done, where there were lots of interested parties.”
Pfefferle said it was always difficult to predict how the jury would decide.
“In some sense, I wouldn’t have been surprised by any verdict in this case, because of the issues,” he said.
‘It’s the biggest case in the 10 years I’ve been practicing.’ – Lawyer Brian Pfefferle
He said the Crown’s case was hampered by inconsistent evidence on the part of several witnesses.
“It makes it so difficult for a jury, or any trier of fact, to rely on their evidence,” he said. “Given the high standard that’s required in criminal court to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
While Stanley’s defence heavily relied on evidence that his handgun misfired, Pfefferle said it’s difficult to say how influential the line of questioning was.
“A not guilty verdict does not indicate that they didn’t believe it,” he said. “It just means that it led to a reasonable doubt.”
Pfefferle said it was too early to say whether an appeal will be launched. However, as this was a trial by jury, normally the crown could only appeal the verdict based on concerns over the judge’s instructions to the jury.
“We have a very experienced trial judge, who is obviously very careful,” he said. “He took a whole day to generate his jury instructions.”
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