Members of Colten Boushie’s family say the prime minister apologized to them while they visited Ottawa this week to advocate for change and follow up on past meetings.
“We actually met with Prime Minister Trudeau as of yesterday, and we did discuss some of the changes that we may have seen,” said Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, at a Wednesday news conference in Ottawa.
“But more needs to be done and the follow-up was lacking. That was lacking and that just continues to add to the injustice that we experience. He did apologize and commit to staying in communications with my family as regard to the work that they will be doing,” said Tootoosis, her voice faltering momentarily, “and once again we’ll just have to see what comes of that in time. But definitely, my family will be holding him to account to his words.”
On Aug. 9, 2016, Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, died after he was shot by Gerald Stanley on Stanley’s farm in rural Saskatchewan. Stanley was tried for second-degree murder and manslaughter. He was acquitted.
“We are here to advocate for tools for significant changes to address the systemic racism embedded in Canada’s legal systems,” said Tootoosis.
“Changes remain unseen in Canada’s legal systems following the acquittal of Gerald Stanley and our original visit to Ottawa two years ago, February 2018. And we are here again. We are here again to address that.”
A film about Boushie’s death “nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up” was also screened for federal politicians.
“We were disappointed in the empty seats that were in the room,” said the film’s director Tasha Hubbard. “We had hoped for a larger crowd.”
Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s mother, flew home early Wednesday, so Hubbard read her statement.
“I’m glad, after some setbacks, that several ministers took the time to listen and were willing to discuss specifics, but now we want results,” said Hubbard on Baptiste’s behalf.
Among other things, the family demanded a royal commission look at systemic racism in Canada, an inquiry into Saskatchewan police conduct, and adequate resources to address hate speech.
“In particular, online hate speech,” Hubbard told reporters, “most often found on mainstream media outlets, your outlets, and social media. This is obviously apparent in the recent weeks. However, the family has been experiencing this directly for three-and-half years without action by the RCMP.”
Hubbard was referencing blowback from protests and demonstrations that have flared across the country for the last three weeks. People have disrupted critical infrastructure – including rails, ports and roads – in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in northwestern British Columbia, where RCMP enforced an injunction against the chiefs and their supporters earlier this month. The hereditary chiefs were preventing Coastal GasLink from building a pipeline through their traditional territory.
At the news conference, Senators Kim Pate and Lillian Dyck flanked Tootoosis and Hubbard.
“We can make statements in the chamber, and then we can also ask questions to the representative of the government in the Senate,” said Dyck, of how the upper chamber can address the family’s demands.
“I think part of our responsibility is to breathe life into the role of the Senate to basically provide a forum for discussing issues that aren’t getting dealt with in the house of commons for whatever reason,” said Pate.
The family also called for the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples to come investigate racism in Canada.
Gord Johns, NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, supported that demand after meeting Boushie’s family and Hubbard.
“I think it’s really important that Canadians realize how little has been done since Colten’s life was taken, and how much work we still have to do as a country,” said Johns in a press release.
“That’s why I’m joining Colten’s family in urging the Prime Minister to invite the UN Rapporteur to Canada, so that she can investigate the ongoing discrimination and racism in our country.”
Tootoosis said they’re advocating on behalf of others who have experienced similar loss.
“What happened to my family continues to happen to other families in this country, and it’s unacceptable.”