The family of Colten Boushie, the young Indigenous man from Saskatchewan whose shooting death was investigated by the RCMP in 2016, is speaking out following the release of an independent report that found Canada’s national police force racially discriminated against Boushie’s mother.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has accepted the finding of racial discrimination along with many others detailing numerous police missteps during the investigation, including the mishandling of witnesses and evidence and the insensitive process of notifying Debbie Baptiste of her son’s death.
“I did not deserve to be treated the way I was treated,” Baptiste said at a news conference hosted by the family on Monday morning. She said the family was not treated like human beings.
“The way they were treated was unacceptable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during an unrelated announcement in Quebec. “We have seen, unfortunately, examples of systemic racism within the RCMP, within many of our institutions, and we need to do better.”
WATCH | Treatment of Boushie’s family ‘unacceptable,’ Trudeau says:
The RCMP watchdog, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), also concluded that media releases sent by police early in the investigation caused the family further anguish by fuelling perceptions that Boushie’s death at the hands of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was deserved.
Baptiste said the experience did much hurt to the family, but they’ve been able to overcome it thanks to the support of Indigenous people.
“We fought for this justice and we’ll continue fighting,” Baptiste said of the CRCC’s findings. “If Colten could hear me now, he’d be proud that we continued fighting and we never gave up.”
WATCH | ‘He was a human being,’ Colten Boushie’s mother says:
Boushie, 22, was shot and killed after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan drove onto Stanley’s property near Biggar, Sask., on Aug. 9, 2016.
An altercation occurred between the people in the SUV and Stanley and his son, ending with Stanley fatally shooting Boushie.
In February 2018, a jury found Stanley, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
‘They had the nerve to smell her breath’
Baptiste made the remarks in Saskatoon Monday in response to the findings, which the CRCC published online earlier in the morning after first sharing them with the family and the RCMP members involved.
The family was joined by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron.
In a statement Saturday, the Saskatchewan RCMP said the CRCC’s findings and recommendations will help increase the public’s confidence in the police force, while a union representing some RCMP members, the National Police Federation, said the CRCC’s work was biased against police and omitted some crucial facts.
When asked for comment, RCMP in Ottawa referred back to the earlier statement by Saskatchewan RCMP.
The CRCC’s reports, which generally found the investigation to be professional and reasonable, focused in part on events soon after Boushie was shot.
Seven officers visited Baptiste’s home on the Red Pheasant reserve that night. They were there to break the news of Boushie’s death and search the home for a witness they believed might have a gun.
While finding no signs of discrimination in officers’ approach and search of the home, the CRCC found evidence of discrimination during the next-of-kin notification process when it came to “the police’s conduct towards Ms. Baptiste with respect to her sobriety and her credibility.”
The family had accused one officer of telling the grieving Baptiste to “get it together” and asking if she had been drinking.
“One or more RCMP members smelled her breath,” the commission wrote.
Eleanore Sunchild, a lawyer representing the family, told the news conference that was not acceptable.
“When she fell to the floor, after they told her her son was dead, they had the nerve to smell her breath,” Sunchild said, summarizing the CRCC’s findings.
Baptiste told officers Boushie’s dinner was waiting in the microwave, the CRCC wrote.
“Then they even checked the microwave where she had put her son’s dinner to make sure that she was telling the truth,” Sunchild said.
“If that doesn’t speak of discrimination and racism, I don’t know what does.”
WATCH | Boushie family lawyer Eleanore Sunchild speaks at news conference:
The CRCC also found that officers acted on insufficient information when they decided the level of risk justified surrounding Baptiste’s house. The RCMP also did not have the family’s informed consent to search the house.
RCMP Commission Brenda Lucki defended the tactical approach, citing fears about officer safety at the time, but agreed the resulting next-of-kin notification process and the search of the home were insensitive and lacked good judgment.
FSIN calls for RCMP union head’s firing over comments
The National Police Federation and its president came under fire during the news conference for its comments on the CRCC’s findings over the weekend.
Brian Sauvé took the CRCC to task for “unconditionally” accepting the Boushie family’s assertion of discrimination.
“It is clear that the CRCC relied more heavily on Ms. Baptiste’s version — demonstrating a bias against our members’ accounts, despite their handwritten notes made contemporaneously and a written report,” Sauvé said.
“These broad-brush findings about our members — simply because they are police officers — is not constructive to reconciliation.”
- Read the union’s full statement here.
Chris Murphy, another lawyer representing Boushie’s family, was quick to defend Baptiste on Monday against Sauvé’s comments in a statement and an accompanying backgrounder.
“There is no way that a mother who has just lost her son makes up a story about police officers searching a microwave for a plate of food,” Murphy said.
“Yet in the face of the CRCC’s decision, the RCMP union is still asking people in this country not to believe this woman. Shame on them.”
WATCH | Family lawyer Chris Murphy responds to RCMP union’s comments:
Chief Cameron of the FSIN called on the union to fire Sauvé for his “stupid comments.”
“Welcome to our world, Brian Sauvé,” Cameron said. “We’ve been living with bias for decades. Welcome to First Nations peoples’s lives.”
A spokesperson for the union said it stood by its statement and backgrounder and had nothing to add.
RCMP releases ruined Boushie family name, brothers say
The CRCC also examined the initial media releases the Saskatchewan RCMP issued about Boushie’s death.
It found they focused disproportionately on property offences linked to Boushie’s friends, which cast Boushie in a negative light instead of focusing on the investigation of his killing, and fuelled online vitriol directed at the family.
“Ms. Baptiste’s sons William and Jace spoke to their last name being ‘ruined’ and associated with ‘thieves,’ as well as hateful messages and images about their name on social media,” the commission wrote.
“[They] also stated that the media release said more than what the police had told the family and that left them powerless to defend Colten’s name.”
Sunchild, one of the family lawyers, said Monday that those releases set the tone for public discussion of the shooting. She said they gave Canadians permission to spew hatred toward the family, even recently.
“I read the comments on the weekend in response to these articles about the CRCC’s reporting and the hatred is the same.The social media comments are awful,” Sunchild said.
The CRCC made 47 findings related to the investigation, 25 of which found no errors or misconduct, including the questioning of Gerald Stanley.
The commission recommended that a change already made by the Saskatchewan RCMP — having Indigenous officers review media releases discussing serious incidents involving Indigenous people — be made nationwide.
“There are lessons to be learned from how these media releases were written and perceived,” she wrote in response to the CRCC.
Lucki had the commission’s findings and recommendations about the family’s allegations of mistreatment in hand for more than a year before she responded, according to the CRCC. That response was needed in order to make the findings public.
Baptiste said it was “pure torture” waiting for the results of the CRCC’s investigation.
“[It] felt like we were swept under the carpet,” she said.
Murphy called the RCMP’s response “an unreasonable delay” while Sunchild criticized the police force for destroying case evidence such as recordings and transcripts of telephone calls, as noted by the CRCC.
“[We] pointed out that the [CRCC] probe had been initiated before the end of the two-year retention period, and that the materials were relevant to these complaints,” the CRCC wrote.
“We’ll never know what are on those communications,” Sunchild said. “We’ll never know what was said between the members.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, whose office has reached out to the family, said he has also spoken to the RCMP about how to improve its accountability.
“I emphasized that it is our expectation that this will be implemented in full, as quickly as possible,” Blair said in a statement on Monday.
Blair said all employees of the Saskatchewan RCMP will have completed a mandatory cultural awareness and humility course by April 1.
“This is a step in the right direction, but we expect that the RCMP will take further, ongoing steps to educate themselves on how best they can best protect our communities all across the country,” he said.
WATCH | Rewatch entire news conference: