Federal New Democrats are pushing Liberals to reform Canada's jury selection process after a white Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of a young Indigenous man.
Gerald Stanley was acquitted Friday in the 2016 shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation. The verdict has sparked outrage, debate, and protests across the country.
Indigenous people were rejected from the jury that acquitted Stanley because of so-called peremptory challenges, which allow Crown and defence lawyers to refuse possible jurors without explanation.
Charlie Angus, the NDP critic for Indigenous youth, said in question period Monday that "Canada will not be a nation where the senseless killing of Indigenous youth is considered OK." Angus added that Canada can't be defined by "racial suspicion" and a "failed judicial process."
Angus asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau what concrete steps he will take to reassure the Boushie family, members of which are meeting with federal ministers in Ottawa this week, that justice will be served.
Trudeau, who spurred criticism from Conservatives and some legal experts by tweeting about the verdict over the weekend, responded that his thoughts go out to the Boushie family.
"While it would be completely inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case, we understand that there is systemic issues in our criminal justice system that we must address," Trudeau said, sparking some jeers.
"We're committed to broad-based reforms to address these issues. As a country, we must and we can do better."
When Angus pressed again for specifics, Trudeau instead discussed legal inequities facing Indigenous people in Canada.
"When Indigenous adults make up three per cent of our population but 26 per cent of our incarcerated population, there's a problem. When Indigenous Canadians are significantly underrepresented on juries and in jury selection pools, we have a problem," Trudeau said.
"We have much we need to do together to fix the system in the spirit of reconciliation. That's exactly what we're going to be doing."
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould also faced questions from New Democrats about jury selections.
'We are looking at peremptory challenges'
Saskatchewan MP Georgina Jolibois said that in far too many instances, including the trial that followed Boushie's death, juries do not reflect all communities. Jolibois asked what Liberals would do to tackle the underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples on Canadian juries.
Wilson-Raybould said she will work with colleagues on the problem and suggested that the government will be influenced by what former Supreme Court justices have said on the matter.
In 2013, former top court justice Frank Iacobucci released a report that included urging Ontario to push the feds to "prevent the use of peremptory challenges to discriminate against First Nations people."
NDP justice critic Murray Rankin charged that peremptory challenges let lawyers reject prospective jurors for no reason at all.
"Maybe they don't like the way they look. Maybe it's the colour of their skin," Rankin said.
Rankin called on Wilson-Raybould to "review and possibly revoke" the practices under the Criminal Code as a first step.
Wilson-Raybould said that she will bring forward reforms to the criminal justice system in the near future.
"We are looking at peremptory challenges," she said. "We are going to consider how we can utilize the expertise that exists in this room and across the country, about how we can substantively improve the criminal justice system and the jury selection process."
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At trial, Stanley admitted to causing Boushie's death but said it was accidental. The trial heard that Boushie was shot in the head while sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask.
The driver of the SUV 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's son testified that he and his father heard an ATV start up and they thought it was being stolen.
Stanley testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said that the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun "just went off.''
With files from The Canadian Press