LETHBRIDGE - The decision of a jury in Battleford, Saskatchewan to acquit Gerald Stanley of his second-degree murder charge in the death of 22-year-old Colton Boushie ignited a firestorm across Canada, on both sides of the issue.
On Tuesday, Mar. 13, at the Royal Canadian Legion on Mayor Magrath Drive in Lethbridge the issue of whether the current practice of jury selection benefitted Stanley was discussed.
The featured speaker was Ingrid Hess, a lawyer from Lethbridge, who has been practicing law for over 21 years.
For the majority of her career, she has focussed on criminal defence work, representing clients on all kinds of criminal and quasi-criminal charges in the Provincial Court, Court of Queen's Bench and Court of Appeal of Alberta, including a number of serious jury trials.
She has worked extensively with clients of Indigenous background as well.
Hess says she hopes anyone who heard her speech will have an open mind going forward about why the outcome of the Stanley trial had such a profound effect on Indigenous people’s perception of the justice system.
“The outcome was profoundly disturbing and upsetting to most Indigenous people. It’s consistent with their experience with the criminal justice system. Whereas many non-Indigenous people didn’t perceive the injustice, in the same way. I hope my talk shone some light on the reasons why there’s this perception of injustice because of how the jury was selected,” Hess said.
Hess also spoke about other issues involving Indigenous people and their experiences with the criminal justice system, both as accused people or the victims of crimes.
She said the main reason that SACPA reached out to her was to speak about how the jury was selected and whether that may have played a role in terms of the outcome.
“Moving forward what should it look like when we select juries?” Hess asked.
“There’s the issue of representativeness on juries, and how in this instance, the jury wasn’t necessarily representative,” she continued. “Whether that has a bearing on the outcome of the case is difficult for us to assess because juries in Canada can’t be interviewed following the outcome.”
Because of that, Hess added that we don’t know what logic, thinking or rationale members of the jury applied when they came to the conclusion to acquit Mr. Stanley.
“For many people the perception of justice that resulted when five Indigenous appearing people were excluded from the jury was serious. It’s had a marked impact in terms of trust in the criminal justice system, from my anecdotal experience. For example, friends of mine who are members of our local Indigenous community expressed outrage at the acquittal of Mr. Stanley,” Hess stated.
While the Stanley trial brought national attention to this issue, it’s not new.
That was one of the focuses of Hess’ speech, where she touched on a number of cases over the years that involved Indigenous people where there were public questions about the outcome.
- Helen Betty Osborne, a Cree Aboriginal woman from the Norway House reserve who was kidnapped and murdered while walking down Third Street in The Pas, Manitoba during the 1970s.
- Neil Stonechild, a Saulteaux First Nations teenager who died of hypothermia in 1990. There were accusations that the Saskatoon Police Service may have taken him to the northwest section of the city and abandoned him in a field on a night when temperatures were below minus 28.
- Cindy Gladue, a 36-year-old woman who was found dead in a bathtub in an Edmonton motel in 2011. She died from blood loss from a perforation more than 11 centimetres long that went completely through her vaginal wall.
- Stacy DeBungee, a 41-year-old man whose body was discovered in the McIntyre River in 2015. His death was one of several deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay's waterways that were quickly deemed not suspicious with little apparent investigation by the city's police service.
“This isn’t something I have just been thinking about over the past few months, it’s been studied over and over again for years. One of the slides in my presentation laid out a number of different studies, reports and inquiries about the interaction between the criminal justice system and Indigenous people. Just recently there was a report that came out about Alberta’s failure to disclose the rate of incarcerations of Indigenous people in the province.”
On Wednesday, Mar. 7, it was announced that crown prosecutors won't appeal the acquittal of Stanley. Many people, including Boushie's family and supporters, had been calling for an appeal.
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