An editorial from the Prince George Citizen, published Feb. 13:
The federal government’s recent approval of altering the lyrics of O Canada begs the question of whether another politically-correct change to the anthem should be considered.
Probably since O Canada became the anthem, many First Nations people have sung a slightly different opening line, often in jest, sometimes in protest.
“O Canada, on stolen native land…”
Like the best kind of humour, that joke has a bite that leaves teeth marks and there is ample truth behind it.
There’s no joke to be made, however, over Friday’s acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Colten Boushie. There is only irony, as sad and bitter as singing “on stolen native land” during O Canada.
There is no question Boushie and his friends were trespassing on Stanley’s farm.
There’s one of the tragic ironies right there – the righteous indignation of a white man towards a group of Indigenous people trespassing on his land.
Trespassing? His land?
Shoe, meet other foot.
It’s interesting how easily some people forgive their own trespasses but are so unwilling to forgive trespasses against them.
There’s also no question that Stanley shot Boushie in the back of the head.
What is up for debate was whether Stanley meant to do it or whether the gun went off accidentally.
The jury found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder, which simply means that the jurors believed Stanley had no intention of killing Boushie.
By not finding Stanley guilty of a lesser crime, however, the jury erred. All of Stanley’s defenders, including his own lawyer, have portrayed Boushie’s shooting as an accident.
Under the law, deadly mistakes come with consequences. A man waving around a gun that goes off and kills someone, regardless of the circumstances, must be held accountable for that death.
This was exactly the case last year, when Kayne Penner, 29, of Vanderhoof was sentenced the mandatory four-year minimum for manslaughter involving a firearm in the accidental death of April Johnson.
The judge in the Penner case rejected the defence lawyer’s application that the mandatory sentence was a Charter of Rights and Freedoms violation as a cruel and unusual punishment.
Reading between the lines in the Stanley verdict, one can’t help wonder whether the jurors may have wanted to find Stanley guilty of negligence or manslaughter but thought four years in jail was too harsh, so they felt they had no choice but to acquit him outright.
Race is important in this case, because Stanley’s defence lawyer made it so. The all-white jury happened after Stanley’s lawyer challenged the inclusion of every single one of the visibly Indigenous individuals whose names were pulled from the jury pool. As an excellent legal discussion Sunday afternoon on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup revealed, Canadian lawyers do not have to give a reason for challenging a potential juror but in the United States, lawyers have limited options to challenge and must provide a non-discriminatory reason to the judge for the challenge, who reserves the authority to reject the request to dismiss the juror.
Imagine the cries of political correctness gone mad if the Crown in this case had challenged all potential jurors who were white, to create a jury made up exclusively of Indigenous individuals. The appeal would write itself.
Sadly, Saskatchewan has been down this tragic road before.
In 1995, Alex Ternowetsky, a young man with family in Prince George at the time, and another man were both charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pamela George. Ternowetsky and his chum were two cleancut 20-year-old white students at the University of Regina and George was an Indigenous sex worker.
With Ternowetsky hiding in the trunk, the other man picked up George and took her to the outskirts of the city. After both men had sex with her, they savagely beat her and left her in a ditch, where she was found dead hours later. Their defence was that they were drunk, things got a bit rough and she was alive when they drove away.
The court found the pair guilty only of manslaughter and, due to time served, they were granted parole three years later.
Now imagine if two young drunk Indigenous men had committed the same crime against a young white woman. The outrage would have included calls for the return of the death penalty.
The law is not perfect, nor are the devoted men and women who devote their lives to enforcing it.
Instead of issuing tweets of support for the Boushie family, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers should keep their crocodile tears to themselves, particularly in a case that could still be before the courts through an appeal.
Instead, they should let their actions do the talking and focus on setting new national standards for jury selection.
As for the law on the books, if Stanley had been convicted and given the minimum four years in prison, that sentence would have been condemned on all sides. Stanley’s supporters would have found it horribly unfair to a law-abiding farmer protecting his private property and his family’s safety.
Boushie’s family would have found four years woefully inadequate for the death sentence their beloved Colten received.
In most emotionally charged disputes in a working democracy, when neither side is happy with the result, that’s probably close to the best possible outcome.
Stanley got the best outcome here but no one else did. That’s a crime to anyone of aboriginal ancestry and it’s unacceptable for all Canadians who believe the fair application of the rule of law is the foundation of our democracy.