KAMLOOPS — The case of acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley has sparked outrage and a bitter divide across the country, especially within First Nations communities.
Stanley is the man who shot and killed 22 year-old Colten Boushie in 2016. On Friday night, he was acquitted of second-degree murder, a move that's being called 'shameful' by the victim's friends and family.
"The real issue is the legitimacy of the decision because of the composition of the jury," said Kamloops lawyer and former judge Bill Sundhu.
Sundhu noted the verdict is "tainted" and was from the beginning.
"There's a lack of appearance of impartiality," he said. "Therefore, it lacks public confidence. The justice system depends on the confidence and the respect of the public."
It was an all-white jury that acquitted Stanley. TRU Law professor Micah Rankin said no matter who was part of the jury, the crown was put in a different position because the group was trespassing on Stanley's property.
"The accused was entitled to use some force, was entitled to defend his property," said Rankin. "But I don't think to the extent we saw."
Sundhu said if he was the judge, he would've called a mistrial. Nonetheless, he argues if the jury was more balanced — guilty or not — the final verdict would be more widely accepted.
"In this case, my understanding is the defense lawyer used the tools that were available to him. Automatic peremptory challenges and he challenged anyone that appeared Indigenous, so he was playing the race card. He's entitled to do that," said Sundhu."
Rankin feels the issues are barriers that prevent First Nations people from participating in the jury selection process.
"I personally think the focus should be on how to get more Aboriginal people into the jury pool," he noted. "I have myself selected a few juries in Kamloops and I have been quite surprised at times at how bereft the pool is of Aboriginal people and that's a problem across Canada."
Rankin, however, feels the jury selection argument has been "blown way out of proportion" and says there are many more judicial reforms that would help first nations people.
"Despite my sympathies for Colten Bouchie's family, this is a distraction, in terms of prioritizing this for reform, from other, more significant issues like pre-trial detention, mandatory minimum sentences, all sorts of areas which are more complicated."
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