By Geordon Omand
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA- Much needs to be done to fix the way First Nations people are treated within Canada’s criminal justice system, but it would be “completely inappropriate” to comment on the specifics of of the Colten Boushie verdict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.
Speaking in the House of Commons during question period, Trudeau said First Nations people are underrepresented on juries and overrepresented in the prison population, a situation he said his government is committed to solving.
“We are committed to broad-based reform to address these issues.
As a country, we must and we can do better,” he said. “Our government is committed to working hard every day to ensure justice for all Canadians.”
On Friday, a jury found Gerald Stanley, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 killing of Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
But a strong reaction on social media from both Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould prompted cries of protest from opposition MPs, some of whom accused the prime minister and his Indigenous justice minister of interfering in the judicial process.
In the wake of the Stanley verdict, Wilson-Raybould tweeted Saturday that Canada “can and must do better.” On Monday, she was asked whether she believed the acquittal was unjust.
Her tweet was meant to be about the justice system generally, she replied.
“I turned on the television like many people did and I was confronted with the family, with other Canadians across the country who were displaying anguish, emotion, concerns, and I felt compassion and wanted to acknowledge that compassion,” Wilson-Raybould said.
The government is taking a close look at the jury selection process and so-called peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates without justification, she added.
Boushie’s relatives met Monday with federal ministers in Ottawa, where they said they hope to build relationships with people who have the power to change the way Indigenous Canadians are treated in the justice system.
The Boushie family is scheduled to sit down Tuesday with Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Kevin Seesequasis, a Cree Nation councillor in Saskatchewan, said both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents are reeling from what he describes as a horrible failure of the criminal justice system.
“Colten Boushie was not just the victim of a senseless murder,” Seesequasis said.
“If we cannot find some way toward real change for Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, Colten Boushie will also be the victim of a criminal justice system that was stacked against him from the start and a government indifferent to that reality.”