On heels of Colten Boushie trial, Laurentian University president vows to help fix 'failing' justice system

Laurentian University’s interim president issued a strong statement about Canada’s justice system, on a day he said resembled a “day of mourning” for the school’s Indigenous community.

Interim president says university's plan is to become leaders in reconciliation

Pierre Zundel, Laurentian University's interim president, says the school will 'dig deep' to help create a working justice system. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Laurentian University's interim president issued a strong statement about Canada's justice system, on a day he said resembled a "day of mourning" for the school's Indigenous community.

Pierre Zundel made his comments during Premier Kathleen Wynne's town-hall style visit to the school.

The event was largely overshadowed by talk of Colten Boushie.

"I haven't seen a day like this since I've been at the university," Zundel said. "People's hearts were full. There was shock, there was pain about the verdict."

Zundel added the reaction from the Boushie trial follows the death of two Indigenous people in Timmins during interactions with police.

The incidents, Zundel said, combined to "create an atmosphere where people are hurting."

People gather at a vigil in Timmins for Joey Knapaysweet, 21, of Fort Albany First Nation, near the spot on Gillies Lake where he was shot by police on February 3. (Facebook)

As for why Laurentian took a stance on the politically-sensitive issue, Zundel said the university's' mandate, as set out in its strategic plan, is to become leaders in reconciliation.

"We've been working at reconciliation for 40 years," Zundel said. "This is a historic moment in Canadian history for us to hear the truth of the relationship that has been in the past, and find a way to work together that respects everybody's human rights and develops the full potential of Indigenous students."

Zundel said that 11 per cent of Laurentian students, as well as 25 faculty members, are Indigenous.

He said the university will continue to push to tell the story of Indigenous people's relations to non-Indigenous, as well as with the justice system.

"Part of our job is through research, through teaching, through the people we invite to the university, to raise this issue in the public mind and with our students provide some scholarly input to identify what the real issues are and make contributions to public policy," Zundel said.

Read the full text of Laurentian University interim president Pierre Zundel's statement on Colten Boushie:

As Interim President, I want to extend the sincerest condolences and sympathy of the Laurentian University community to the family and friends of Colten Boushie for the grief and frustration they must be feeling at this time. Our sympathy extends to the whole Indigenous community which shares in that grief and frustration. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

Laurentian University is committed to reconciliation. That means we will dig deep and help create a justice system that works for all people, including those it currently fails most consistently, namely Indigenous peoples.

All your relations at Laurentian University stand with you at this time.

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