The fatal shooting of a young man on a farm in Saskatchewan in August 2016 triggered a media feeding frenzy — one that would get Canadians [‘from coast to coast’] all riled up.
The fuss wasn’t because the victim — 22-year-old Colten Boushie — died in the company of his buddies, drunken thieves. No. It was because Boushie was Aboriginal and the man who pulled the trigger was Caucasian. End of story.
When a murder trial got underway, a year and a half later, a run-of-the-mill crime story had morphed into a huge racial issue.
And for that, we can thank the mainstream media.
What is the truth? … and can we handle it?
The mainstream media — we’re talking CTV, CBC, Global TV plus some major radio and print outlets — sunk their teeth into the tragic death, often focusing on racially-charged comments from people living on the dead man’s reserve and from those who bought into the cries of racism.
It was, as we say in the biz, a sexy story. “Saskatchewan’s racial divide” and all that.
Colten Boushie’s friends spoke highly of him. “He was awesome,” they said. A local pastor described Boushie as the ‘Rodney King of Western Canada.’ Family member Marie Baptiste upped the hype … she told The Globe and Mail that Colten’s reserve “is the Mississippi of the north.”Family, friends, and supporters of Colten Boushie were also quick to point out that because no Natives were on the jury, it was therefore racism. That meant the jury was biased and the farmer should have been sent packing to the Big House.
Is that true?? Was this about racism?
Damning information shared on social media shows a much different ‘backstory’ to the shooting — one the mainstream media doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to. Was this a case of ‘silence by media’ or ‘censorship by omission’?
A criticism of reporters is that we’re too politically correct and that we live in a bubble. Another is that we’re not interested in news, only noise.
Is that also true??
One final question: Is the controversy surrounding the Boushie killing a case of reality vs political correctness? You decide.
I’m no stranger to Canada’s Aboriginals and the huge issues they face. For more than 30 years, I did news items for both public and corporate mainstream media — plus stories for a number of independent outlets.
No media system is perfect, but I can say that the mainstream media has a far greater interest in protecting the status quo. And it’s not hard to connect the dots … it all comes down to money.
The downside to social media is that it can be factually-challenged. However, it’s still a good barometer of what people are thinking, and why.
The bulk of my career was spent covering criminal justice and Aboriginal issues. From the mid-1980s to the early 90s, while with CBC Radio in Edmonton, Alberta, I was on what we called at the time an ‘Indian beat.’Most of my Native stories involved the Lubicon, a group of Cree living in the sticks in northwestern Alberta. I often pointed out to our listeners that the Lubicon had never signed a treaty with the federal government, nor had they been ‘conquered.’
I focused on the plight of the small band in the face of massive oil and gas development on land they hadn’t given up title to. The issue of land ownership turned out to be a hot potato, grabbing the attention of editors across North America and Europe — not to mention bureaucrats at the United Nations that characterized Ottawa’s treatment of the Lubicon Cree as ‘cultural genocide.’
Along came retroactive legislation by the Alberta Government, a tactic that hadn’t been deployed since a certain German administration used it in the 1930s. Just to screw the Lubicon. That was a Conservative government, by the way.
The CBC was at the forefront of all that coverage.
In addition to CBC Radio in Alberta, my articles appeared on CBC Radio National News as well as on our flagship documentary radio program, Sunday Morning.
Oh. And in the late 1980s, I was presented with an eagle feather for helping Native prisoners. [Aboriginal people make up about 10 percent of Canada’s population — yet 40 percent of its prison population.] In turn, I presented the eagle feather to a top student in my class of native journalism students.
Now that we have that ‘full-disclosure’ stuff out of the way, let’s get back to the story in Saskatchewan …
A Fatal Shooting
22-year-old Colten Boushie was killed in a farmyard near Biggar, in northwestern Saskatchewan, on August 9, 2016. He took a bullet in the back of the head while sitting in a parked SUV.
Boushie was a Cree Indian from the nearby Red Pheasant First Nation.The shot was fired by 56-year-old Gerald Stanley, the property owner.
Stanley’s version of events is that, using a handgun, he fired two warning shots after some trespassers entered his yard, began stealing his stuff and tried to run over his wife.
One guy, he said, attempted to drive off with his all-terrain vehicle — then tried to run his wife down when she tried to stop him.
Stanley claims the third bullet — the one that took out Boushie — was the result of his gun going off accidentally. He told police he didn’t mean to kill him.The RCMP charged Gerald Stanley with 2nd-degree murder. The man was handcuffed, put behind bars … but eventually released on a $10,000 cash bail.
Stanley’s trial began in late January 2018 and ended about two weeks later.
In his opening statement to the jury, Stanley’s lawyer, Scott Spencer of Saskatoon, said that Boushie was the victim of a “freak accident that occurred in the course of an unimaginably scary situation.”
“Is it reasonable to fire warning shots to get them to just leave? That’s what it comes down to in many ways. Stanley was faced with intruders and didn’t have the luxury to wait for police.”
“This is really not a murder case at all,” Spencer said. “This is a case about what can go terribly wrong when you create a situation which is really of the nature of a home invasion.”
“If they would have just stopped — stopped drinking, stopped drinking and driving, stopped breaking into people’s places, stop vandalizing stuff, stop crashing into things …”
There. That’s called the other side of the story.
The farmer chose to be tried by jury instead of a judge alone.
In the end, seven women and five men had to figure out if Gerald Stanley was, in fact, a cold-blooded killer. They came to the conclusion he wasn’t.
Stanley was therefore acquitted. He was free to go.
The Race Card
There was immediate outrage from residents of the Red Pheasant First Nation. ‘Racism’ they cried because no jury member was Aboriginal.
The proverbial race card got tossed around and that got the mainstream media worked up. A run-of-the-mill theft/murder story soon elevated to a burning national concern about racism. The old race card always whips people into a frenzy — and it sure helps the TV ratings and newspaper sales …
There’s nothing like a good race story for finger-pointing and dividing a society with guilt trips.
There are always two sides to a coin. Here’s the other side: many say the real story was never about race, it was always about crime.
Here’s what Gerald Stanley’s lawyer told reporters: “Gerry’s trial is not a referendum on racism. If jurors feel they have to pick a ‘side,’ then it will be very difficult for there to be a fair trial.”
Spencer was referring to comments made by Native jury prospects who announced the farmer should hang for what he did. Brilliant move, Einstein. Mind you, this is before the trial even started. File that under ‘How To Get Out Of Jury Duty.’
Entering the fray was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who immediately took the side of the Natives. He promised changes would be made to Canada’s judicial system.
Trudeau is not a lawyer. But he spoke with authority as though it was a fact that Natives in Canada aren’t getting a fair shake.
[Note to Mr. Dressup: Special sentencing guidelines have been in place for decades for Natives convicted of serious crimes. So there’s already a bias favouring them — and it’s the law. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, judges have no choice but to give Natives lesser sentences than non-Natives.]
Now that’s racism.
Enter Social Media
There was a time when social media meant leaning on a fence and chatting with a neighbour, a get-together with friends at a restaurant, at the water cooler … listening in on a party line [who remembers those?] … or having a letter to the editor published. Back in the day, that’s how social media worked.
Not today. Because of the Internet, computers, smart cell phones, and tablets, etc, all that has changed. And gosh has it ever … there are websites, blogs, tweets, cheap long-distance telephone calls, and billions of emails.
It’s a whole new world, certainly not the one I grew up in. I was born in 1949.
Social media — described as opinionated and underground — is now a powerful influence, and so the reason for this post …
Let me put this out there: the public has never had 100 percent trust in the mainstream media — and for good reason. Because of easy access to alternative sources and therefore more information, trust in traditional media outlets has diminished. And it’s getting worse.
As a profession, journalism is now one of the least trusted and respected … and the mainstream media is paying the price.
There are those who believe that a once [fairly respected] industry is now on life-support. They point to the massive layoff of reporters over the past 20 years, suggesting its days are numbered.
‘Why Are We Not Hearing This on the News?’
Bruce, a former Calgary Police sergeant, points out that the three Natives directly involved in the incident lied to the police — then lied again — to the jury.
[Correct. Put another way, if these bozos had been strapped to a lie detector they would’ve blown every gasket in the machine.]
The retired cop points out that the three Caucasians who testified at the trial did NOT lie to investigating officers, nor did they lie in court. “In addition,” he says, “forensic evidence gathered by the police at the crime scene supported the evidence and testimony of the three Caucasian witnesses.”
And there we have it. Credibility versus no credibility. The dream of any defence lawyer.
In his opening statement, Crown Prosecutor Bill Burge warned the jury, “there may well be some serious contradictions to what people say.” No kidding. That was code for ‘some goofs have been lying through their teeth, you’ll soon meet them — and they’ll lie to you too.’
Given this information, Bruce the cop says, “Who do you think the jury had reason to believe was more likely to be telling the truth? That’s why Gerald Stanley was acquitted,” he says. “That’s how our justice system is supposed to work.”
Bruce doesn’t stop there …
“The Prime Minister and the federal Attorney General contacted the Boushie family and offered their condolences … and say they will take steps to ensure this never happens again. They were insinuating that Natives would now receive preferential treatment before the courts.”
“For that,” Bruce says, “they should immediately resign from their positions. That is not their job and they’re clearly indicating there will be a greater bias towards Native persons to the detriment of the rest of the citizens in this country.”
“Further,” he says, “neither one has contacted the Stanley family to offer their condolences. Why not …?”
A rancher offers this insight: “The Indians who testified were the worst kind of liars in that they could not remember the lies they had told earlier on the record. No respectable jury could have convicted after their testimony.”
“The Red Pheasant reservation is notorious for this kind of stuff,” he adds. “Farmers and ranchers in the area regularly carry guns.”
“Every day I thank my lucky stars I don’t live near a reservation. Urbanites have no idea how defenceless we are in the country. The RCMP are useless and they don’t care.”
An anonymous writer states in an email, “As near as I can tell, the media is obscuring true details of this case …”
The writer claims that those in the SUV are related to chiefs from the Red Pheasant reservation who have faced charges of assault, drunk driving, driving while suspended, poaching … and fraud. He or she identifies four chiefs that have been indicted for corruption in office and booted from their position.
Except for the current chief who still faces criminal charges.
“Google each chief’s name, you will see their kids frequently have warrants issued for assault, armed robbery, and rape.”
“Red Pheasant has been spending a substantial percentage of their budget defending these corrupt chiefs since at least 2009. These scumbags rotate in and out of office.”
“Then along comes a distraction in the form of Boushie. It’s wonderful. It gets the band to circle the wagons and gets [current chief] Clint Wuttunee out of the news.”
“But when all the facts are presented, instead of the ‘damned white people’ to blame it appears that [those in the SUV] are merely doing what their family does. Thieving, drunk scumbags.”
Included in the email is a link to the [Saskatoon] Star Phoenix about Clint Wuttunee and corruption charges …
“Meanwhile, the people of Red Pheasant suffer as the corrupt chiefs engage in a media dog and pony show to distract everyone.”
“Never let a good tragedy go to waste!”
“The media coverage has been full of so many holes …”
Here’s another ticked-off writer who has taken to social media to voice some strong opinions …
“Let’s backtrack a little bit here … Colten had been drinking. Other people in the car had been drinking. They admitted to it. There was a loaded weapon in the vehicle. That’s a fact. They had just come from a different farm after stealing stuff from it. Fact. One person in the car tried to steal an ATV. Fact. People in the car admitted to lying under oath. Fact.”
“Others in the car admitted to attacking Stanley’s wife. That’s assault.”
“A scuffle ensued and due to some unfortunate circumstances, Colten paid the ultimate price due to his own and his friends’ poor choices.”
“Agreeing with the verdict doesn’t make me a racist. It makes me a realist.”
“Criminals know that the response time for police to get to a rural area is astronomical and they’re using that to their advantage. And if they do get caught, they get a slap on the wrist. Steal a truck and wreck it? Pfft, three months in jail and probation.”
“People are getting fed up. They’re getting fed up with their vehicles getting stolen. They’re getting fed up with their houses being broken into. They’re getting fed up with criminals. And that’s what Colten and his friends decided to do that day. Be criminals.”
As for jury selection, the writer claims that during the interview process, every indigenous person in the waiting area — in the presence of police officers — was openly saying how they wanted to hang Stanley.
“That’s hardly impartial.”
“Is it sad what happened? Yes, absolutely. No family should experience a loss like this. Is it Stanley’s fault it happened? No, absolutely not.”
“Stanley didn’t invite them onto his farm. He didn’t tell them to steal his stuff. He didn’t say they could have his ATV. He didn’t provide them with alcohol that made their blood alcohol content more than three times the legal limit …”
“Stanley was protecting himself, his family, and his property from criminals. End of story.”
Tamara Woroschuk doesn’t pull any punches. She begins her email by slamming three Native leaders …
“Chief Bobby Cameron, former Chief Wittunee and current Chief Wuttunee, I am disappointed at the example you are setting for our people. It’s very dishonourable that you’ve pulled the racism card.”
“They [the trespassers] had attempted to rob another farmyard earlier that day. Half the witnesses were not thinking straight, add into that copious amounts of alcohol and you can’t say they wouldn’t have killed Gerald or his family in a split second …”
“Not once has anyone acknowledged that Gerald Stanley and his family did not ask to be put in the middle of this witch hunt … yet their lives are changed forever.”
“To hear that a dozen officers went to inform Ms. [Debbie] Baptiste of her son’s passing does not surprise me. RCMP members don’t go onto a reserve on their own.”
Woroschuk has a lot to say. “Farmers have had to arm their property for years against theft. It continually gets swept under the rug and is something we’re not supposed to talk about because it’s politically incorrect.”
“Was Gerald Stanley racist? Did he have prior incidents? Was he known to go looking for trouble? My guess is ‘no’ because if he was, the media would have been all over it.”
“Not once have I heard one of the chiefs say, “We have our work cut out for us when it comes to working with our young people and in teaching them right from wrong while also becoming productive members of the community.”
Woroschuk again slams Chief Bobby Cameron. “He talks about karma and how Gerald Stanley’s children and grandchildren will pay for this [‘you’re gonna pay’]. So he turns a blind eye [to] the facts and then threatens the Stanley family?”
“You, Chief Cameron, are part of the problem and the divide …”
“These adults [the trespassers] made a conscious decision to jump on Stanley’s quad and in a truck that Gerald had fixed, then tried to run over him and his son. And if they were too drunk to make a conscious decision, that responsibility falls on you.”
“You [Chief Bobby Cameron] were elected to take care of the people from Red Pheasant First Nation and make it a better place.”
“And then to have former Chief Wuttunee say, ‘I drive those back roads too and I can tell you that since the shooting happened, I don’t want to break down now.’ This wasn’t some random, unprovoked ghetto shooting targeting people with dark skin so please, stop the ignorance.”
But thank you,” she concludes, tongue in cheek, “for the fear-mongering and your work in uniting this province …”
Meanwhile in London-town …
Comes a story similar to the Colton shooting. On 4 April 2018, 78-year-old Richard Osborn-Brooks was arrested on suspicion of murder after defending his home in London, England against two thieves.
A fight broke out between the intruders and the homeowner. One of the burglars, a 38-year-old man, got the worst of it … suffering a stab wound ‘to the upper body.’ He was taken to a hospital. A few hours later, the thief was on a gurney, on his way to the coroner’s office.
California journalist Jon Rappoport picks up the story …
“This [the murder charge] is backward,” he writes. “But many people would call it ‘progressive.'”
“You see, the thief is really the victim, and the victim is the perpetrator. Once you digest that formula, you’re ready to enter the New Society.”
“A thief would never steal unless he has been ‘oppressed.'”
“Congratulations. You’re now a card-carrying liberal.”
Rival fundraisers …
Donations are rolling in for separate ‘GoFundMe’ campaigns for the Stanley and Boushie Families. Thanks to the CBC for this story …
What an awesome writeup! Interesting read!
I agree 100%!
An honest and thought-provoking article.
There will always be those who raise the issue of racism and those who will try to exploit a situation to their own advantage, regardless of the truth.
There is an excellent film produced and released in Australia this year called “Sweet Country”. (Sam Neil and Bryan Brown, etc) concerning a situation, based on fact, regarding our Aboriginal folk. Different yet somehow similar.
After reviewing your story on the Colten Boushie case it makes one believe Canada’s First Nations people were looking for an OJ Simpson moment — to have all the sins of the past against them cleansed by a wrong verdict.
For America’s Black community the OJ Simpson verdict was a way to right all the wrongs of the past. Wrong or right that’s what happened and a murderer walked away free.
The African American community felt they had a ‘win’ after many years of injustices were done against them.
Painting the guilty as innocent won’t help lift up any group of oppressed people. If it did, America would not be in the state that it’s in right now. When it comes to race relations it’s more polarized than ever.
A wrong will always be a wrong and no politically-correct sentiment or environment will change that.
Trying to lift up a community based on false information will never set them free to advance their cause for true justice.
Interesting read, complex problem!!
In the confusion today of ‘false news,’ social media, and general skepticism of all that one sees and hears, a trusted voice helps us to examine more closely our thoughts or position on things … as we feel quite often uncertain.
Well written … and thanks.
I am totally not surprised to read the ‘rest of the story!’
As the writer stated, the media is very often biased on stories and appears to only report what they want the public to know. What happened to unbiased reporting!
As stated, with social media to reveal more information, reporters are writing themselves out of existence!
The truth is not pretty but needs to be told.
Finally, an article that lays out the facts with a clear and unbiased explanation.
While it is indeed a tragic ending to the life of a young man, the choices made that night by a group of inebriated people led to the distinct possibility that no good could come from their actions.
Thank you for posting this account. It needs to be widely shared.
I have to agree with the above comment: “The truth is not pretty but needs to be told.”
I seriously think that the various tribes and reservations need to be ‘gradually’ changed to the ways of Canadians, and not be segregated and taken advantage of by the ‘Chief’ clan! I know that this could also take a few generations to finally get sorted out . . .
Interesting how the truth gets bent and race cards get played.
Bottom line — if the cops are not there, protect your castle. You do what you have to.
The truth is the truth period.
Thanks for that information. You are an INVESTIGATIVE reporter.
So many points missed by the media. Thank you for providing the full story, awesome job.
I shared this article on my Facebook page.
In today’s PC environment and the liberal fake news so prevalent, distortion is the name of the game and much injustice prevails against those drawn into what quite often turns out to be fatal.
Seeing the preferential treatment of criminally-minded wrongdoers of whatever race or creed where truth and competent investigation is questionable, is a disheartening sign of the time.
Brilliant! In a perfect world, we would have read / heard YOUR coverage of the trial done as few can and certainly not these days.
Lady Justice’s scales need to be re-calibrated … and her blindfold should be removed. Social media is far from balanced. She / he with the biggest soap box is heard loudest regardless of truth or reason. Once the great speckled bird tweets, the call can’t be recalled.
I hope this becomes your most read article. Bravo!!
Have you followed the tragic story of Tina Fontaine? [Ed: Tina was a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl whose remains were found in the Red River in Manitoba in August 2014. Her body was wrapped in a duvet weighted down with rocks. Tina was from the Sagkeeng First Nation, 121 km north of Winnipeg.]
Her last known days are heart-wrenching.
Where was her family? Where was the band?
The Crown charged some junkie with her murder — without much evidence — and was beaten by a legal aid lawyer. Aboriginals were part of the jury that rendered the not guilty verdict.
No mention of that in the familiar litany of complaints.
Thank you for this very informative article. It filled in a lot of missing pieces.
This is useful background you have provided, most of it not reported.
If, in fact, First Nations prospective jurors said the defendant should die, then the use of peremptory challenge was appropriate to ensure a fair trial.
Justin Trudeau’s comment immediately following the verdict was inappropriate since his inference was the jury made a mistake. I agree with his comment “we must do better”, but in a general sense about improving the lives of indigenous people.
The dysfunctional life of Colten Boushie mirrors that found all too often among indigenous people: criminal behaviour, poverty, drug, alcohol and sexual abuse, and broken families. This in large part can be blamed on the legacy of residential schools.
Breaking the cycle of dysfunction and ending the corruption found among many band councils will take a generation or longer. The responsibility rests not only with the federal government but with indigenous people themselves.
Well researched and well-written!
Same old story — all too common — all over the world. If you want to justify the unjustifiable, just yell “Racism”. Sadly, that guilt trip works almost every time.
I sort of like the way you have couched the two adversaries as the “mainstream media” vs “social media.” Most folks probably have never thought of it that way — and gives hope — especially if social media continues to gain in stature — which I believe is inevitable.
Excellent article. While I agree residential schools must bear part of the blame, I see little difference between them and so many of the corrupt band councils.
There does not appear to be much improvement in lives of many indigenous people.
When I think of Indian reserves in Canada, I think: overpaid, corrupt chiefs … while most of their people are very poor and live in filth. Just like in the third world.
Really well done piece of journalism.
Most of my friends are left-leaning politically and many of them feel there was something wrong with the media coverage and particularly with Trudeau and other politicians weighing-in from afar after the verdict was in.
It’s interesting to see that on-line fundraising for the Stanley family equals that of the Boushie family.
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My late husband was an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police [OPP].
It brings back many memories of how the police and the Crown all had to be so thorough, careful and honest in gathering the facts of occurrences.
The criminal can sway their own story to sway public opinion.
It’s a sad story, to be sure, and it’s good that articles like this can give voice to the Stanleys as victims of a crime. While the article itself is truthful, I would like to caution readers against using this article as evidence of greater truths, because the reality is that Canada faces far more racism than we care to admit.
It’s questionable or even ignorant to accuse people of pulling the race card when you have not been subjected to regular direct or systemic racism.
People living their lives on reservations can certainly be forgiven for being quick on the draw with race card when racism is such an overarching part of their experience.