BATTLEFORD, Sask. — The federal justice minister has said the country "can and must do better" after a white farmer was acquitted in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man — a verdict that sparked a firestorm of criticism from First Nations groups across Canada.
A jury in Battleford, Sask., deliberated 13 hours before finding Gerald Stanley not guilty of second degree murder Friday in the 2016 death of Colten Boushie, a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Clint Wuttunee called the ruling "absolutely perverse."
"Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head at point blank range. Nevertheless an all white jury formed the twisted view of that obvious truth and found Stanley not guilty," he said, adding that the verdict "crushed the spirit" of the community.
Something has to be done about this. The government, Justin Trudeau, we ask you to give us Indigenous people justice.Alvin Baptiste
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted her sympathy for Boushie's family, and said she is "committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians."
Boushie's family had previously expressed concern that the deck was stacked against them during the court process.
Following the verdict, his uncle Alvin Baptiste called for change.
"Something has to be done about this. The government, Justin Trudeau, we ask you to give us Indigenous people justice," Baptiste said.
Trudeau addressed the call at a news conference in Los Angeles.
"I'm not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today, but I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times," he said.
"Indigenous people across this country are angry, they're heartbroken, and I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better."
Meanwhile, the head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Chief Bobby Cameron, said that Wilson-Raybould agreed to meet with Boushie's family "to make some serious, positive change to meet the recommendations of the family."
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Boushie's death "tragic," but said the independent judicial process must run its course without political intervention.
"It's appropriate to show concern and support for the family of the victim, but I think it is important that we remember that politicians don't decide these types of things," Scheer told reporters in Halifax, noting that he didn't know the nature of Wilson-Raybould's meetings.
He also said that the situation warranted a discussion about challenges faced by young First Nations people.
Perry Bellegarde, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, held a news conference on Saturday saying that there needs to be lasting, system-wide change.
"We have to call on governments to work with us and develop (an) anti-racism plan and strategy," he said, adding that there should be a complete overhaul of the justice system, which he said is rife with systemic racism.
The Indigenous Joint Action Coalition called for a day of action Saturday to show "solidarity and support" for the Boushie and Baptiste family.
Rallies were scheduled across the country — in Battleford, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and on Parliament Hill.
The trial heard that Boushie was shot in the head while he was sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask.
The SUV driver testified the group had been drinking during the day and tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but went to the Stanley property in search of help with a flat tire.
Stanley, 56 testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun "just went off."
There were sobs of despair and cries of "murderer" in the courtroom Friday night when the not guilty verdict was read.