Trudeau to meet with Boushie family after not guilty verdict prompts wave of anger

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with the family of Colten Boushie tomorrow, days after a not guilty verdict in the trial over his shooting death prompted a wave of anger and calls for justice system reform.

Relatives of Colten Boushie want changes to justice system after Gerald Stanley found not guilty in his death

Jade Tootoosis, cousin of Colten Boushie, flew to Ottawa late Sunday night with Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, and his uncle Alvin Baptist, two days after Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder. (CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with the family of Colten Boushie on Tuesday, days after a not guilty verdict in the trial over his shooting death prompted a wave of anger and calls for justice system reform.

"The prime minister looks forward to meeting with the family tomorrow and listening to them. As the prime minister said, our hearts go out to Colten Boushie's family, his mom Debbie, his friends, and the entire community," a spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

In a tweet sent Friday, Trudeau said he couldn't imagine "the grief and sorrow" the Boushie family was feeling after a jury found Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder for his role in Boushie's death.

A number of Conservative MPs expressed similar sentiments but cautioned the Liberal government against tweeting about the verdict.

"We need to let the many steps of an independent judicial process unfold without political interference," Conservative Indigenous affairs critic Cathy McLeod wrote on Twitter.

Gerald Stanley, right, was found not guilty in the death of Colten Boushie. (Colten Boushie/Facebook and Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Rob Nicholson, a minister of justice under former prime minister Stephen Harper, sent his thoughts and prayers to the Boushie family but said he respected "the independence of the judicial process."

In question period Monday, Trudeau said it would be "completely inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case" — while affirming that there are "systemic issues in our justice system" his government is determined to address.

Questions about jury selection

The meeting with Trudeau comes after Boushie's cousin Jade Tootoosis, his mother Debbie Baptiste and his uncle Alvin Baptiste flew to Ottawa for talks with the two cabinet ministers tasked with carrying out the government's Indigenous affairs agenda.

"This is only the beginning of the conversation and calls to action," Tootoosis told reporters after meeting with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett. "We have little to no faith in the justice system and we're here to talk about that."

"I'm here to speak with the government — [to tell them] that the way they're treating us, it's not right," Alvin Baptiste said.

"They're asking for reconciliation and we're willing to work with the Canadian government ... and change the laws that are out there. They're not working for the First Nations people at all."

The Boushie family's lawyer, Chris Murphy, said the meeting with Bennett lasted more than two hours Monday morning. The meeting with Philpott lasted 45 minutes.

The two ministers said their meetings were about listening and expressing condolences.

"They are standing strong," Philpott said. "Our goal was to listen to them, to hear their perspective. They've been through incredibly troubling times in the 18 months since this young man was killed and we wanted to hear their concerns."

Murphy said the trip has been about building relationships with politicians and officials on Parliament Hill — not asking for an appeal.

"There's no way that relationships across this country are going to change unless there's empathy on both sides," he said.

Family of Colten Boushie are in Ottawa and met Monday with ministers Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett. 0:29

Murphy said family members haven't put any requests on the table yet, but hope to push for specific changes — including reforms to the way juries are chosen — when they meet with the ministers of public safety and justice on Tuesday.

"It hasn't even been 72 hours since the verdict," Murphy said. "We're trying to identify everything that can be addressed. It's going to take some time to put that list together."

Observers criticized the jury makeup for its alleged lack of Indigenous members, although CBC News has not independently determined that was the case.

In Canada, lawyers can challenge potential jurors and exclude them from the jury without giving reasons — so-called "peremptory challenges."

"The U.K. and the United States have basically done away with peremptory challenges. This is a system that's been around for 100 years," Murphy said.

In 1988, the U.K. abolished the right for the defence to challenge jurors without cause. In the U.S. in 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of peremptory challenges to remove a potential juror from the jury pool based on race violates the constitution. 

Bennett and Philpott meet the Boushie family 1:10

In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics, the Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer said would-be jurors in the Stanley case who appeared to be Indigenous — roughly five in total — were challenged by the defence.

"We believe it was an all-white jury and jurors are supposed to be conscience of the community. There are no Indigenous Queen's Bench judges in the province of Saskatchewan. There's one Indigenous provincial court judge. So, the only way to become a judge in Saskatchewan, if you're an Indigenous person, is to get on a jury, and it's almost impossible to do so," he said.

A divisive trial and verdict

Speaking to reporters Monday, Boushie's mother wore a #justiceforcolten T-shirt. She said that, for her, those words amount to a demand for a change in the way Canada and its justice system treat Indigenous people.

"Somehow, Canada could come together, all its people could come together, and realize we're all human beings," she said.

Boushie, 22, was shot and killed after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley's rural property in August 2016.

On Friday, Stanley was found not guilty by a jury.

Boushie was shot in the head after an altercation between Boushie's friends and Stanley and his son.

Stanley testified he never meant to shoot anyone and that the handgun he was holding accidentally went off.

The jury could have found Stanley guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, or not guilty, according to Chief Justice Martel Popescul, who oversaw the trial.

'It's easy to send a tweet'

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould took to Twitter to share her opinion after the verdict was announced.

"I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do better," Wilson-Raybould tweeted.

On Monday she told reporters her tweet was about the justice system in general.

"It's easy to send a tweet," Kim Jonathan, first vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said. "We need that to translate into action, not just a handshake and a hug."

with files from Elise von Scheel and John Paul Tasker

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