Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is standing by his statement that there has been "no justice" for Colten Boushie, the 22-year-old Indigenous man who was shot to death by a white Saskatchewan farmer in 2016.
But Singh told reporters Tuesday that he is not yet calling for an end to peremptory challenges, the controversial court practice that saw Indigenous people rejected from the jury that acquitted Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder.
Singh, a former criminal defence lawyer, also said that he used peremptory challenges in his previous work to ensure greater diversity on juries.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Singh was asked about a tweet he sent after Stanley, 56, was found not guilty Friday. Stanley admitted to causing Boushie's death but said at trial it was an accident.
Indigenous youth had "again been told that their lives have less value," Singh tweeted.
Asked Tuesday about where he draws the line between commenting on a situation and meddling in legal cases, Singh replied in French: "What I said is that we didn't have justice for Colten Boushie and that's clear."
Singh said that the lack of Indigenous representation on juries is a problem that must be confronted.
The rejection of Indigenous candidates by the defence has contributed to the outrage many Canadians are feeling now about the verdict.
"We have a young Indigenous man that was killed and this is a result of ... some underlying, serious problems we need to address as a society," Singh said later when asked what, if anything, needs to change in the judicial system.
"There is clearly racism, there is clearly barriers and injustice that exists for Indigenous communities across our country."
Justice is not just something that is delivered, he said.
"There's also an appearance of justice. And when you don't have representation of the entire community... it reduces confidence in decisions that are made."
NDP MPs have called on the Liberal government to review and possibly revoke peremptory challenges under the Criminal Code in the wake of the Stanley verdict. The challenges allow Crown and defence lawyers to refuse prospective jurors without providing explanation.
NDP justice critic Murray Rankin suggested that the challenges can be used to reject jurors because of the colour of their skin or the way they look.
But Singh suggested peremptory challenges can be useful at addressing bias that might exist in a juror's mind.
"And there's good reasons for that," he said, adding there are legitimate concerns about whether a particular offence or "the identity of the accused" could unduly influence a juror.
What makes peremptory challenges controversial is when they are arbitrary, he suggested.
"This case highlights that a challenge without any sort of basis has resulted in a jury that didn't reflect the entire community," Singh said. "There's some serious concerns that are raised by that."
The NDP leader said that, during his legal career, he used the challenges when he wanted to have more people of colour and Canadians of diverse backgrounds on a jury.
"So I would have challenged someone who wasn't diverse to ensure that there was more diversity on the jury."
The NDP leader said his party is still mulling whether it should take a position on abolishing peremptory challenges.
"I haven't made that decision yet but it's definitely a discussion we need to have," he said.
Indigenous senator calls Stanley support 'truly frightening'
Reaction to the Stanley verdict has reverberated through both chambers of Parliament. Some Indigenous senators are calling for systemic changes to the justice system.
Sen. Lillian Eva Dyck, a member of Saskatchewan's Gordon First Nation, released a statement Tuesday offering sympathies to the Boushie family.
Dyck called some of the comments made on social media from Stanley supporters "vile" and "truly frightening." They show "virulent racism exhibited by some Saskatchewan citizens," she said.
Dyck called Stanley's explanation at trial that his gun accidentally fired the fatal bullet that ended Boushie's life "a rare possibility."
She called for laws to be fair for everyone. "Reconciliation is not possible as long as personal biases and racism is so obviously embedded in our jury system," she said.
The existence of peremptory challenges ignores the 150 years of damage that our colonial system of justice has specifically wreaked upon Indigenous people.Sen. Lillian Dyck
The Saskatewan senator urged lawmakers to introduce legislation that would abolish peremptory challenges, similar to what the United Kingdom did 20 years ago.
"The existence of peremptory challenges ignores the 150 years of damage that our colonial system of justice has specifically wreaked upon Indigenous people," Dyck said.
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, also urged for changes to be made to the Criminal Code following Stanley's not-guilty verdict.
"There are laws that can be changed and the laws that contributed to this need to be reviewed," the former judge told CBC News.
The jury's not-guilty verdict immediately galvanized Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to organize "Justice for Colten Boushie" events across the country.
In Ottawa, approximately 50 people rallied by the steps of Parliament Hill on Saturday. Singers and drummers were drowned out by the sound of the noon bells ringing from the Peace Tower — and Shania Twain — blaring from speakers at the nearby Canada 150 skating rink.
"I came out today because I was pretty pissed," Connor McNamara told HuffPost Canada. McNamara is Metis from Penetanguishene, Ont. "I figured this would be a good way to calm down and discuss with people."
He shared his frustrations with people outside Saskatchewan who are writing off the Stanley verdict as symptomatic of a systemic problem exclusive to the Prairies.
"Canada has a racism problem."
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