We’re not as good as we think we are in Canada



RCMP watchdog to examine handling of Colten Boushie shooting

 

Indigenous leaders call for resignation of Thunder Bay police chief over non-investigation of death of Indigenous man

My home town seems to have become the epicentre of institutional racism in Canada.

I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a city sometimes called the Lakehead. Years, decades can go by without it getting noticed in the national news.

But it’s certainly been in the news a lot over the past year, and not in a good way.

Here’s one from the Globe and Mail of March 5, 2018:

“Indigenous leaders call on Thunder Bay police chief to resign after report alleges neglect of duty”

Then there’s this one from last summer:

First Nations woman dies after being hit by trailer hitch thrown from passing car in Thunder Bay, Ont.”

Barbara Kentner, left, was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving car in Thunder Bay, Ont. Photo: CBC

Let’s look into these things a little closer.

Indigenous leaders like Robin McGinnis, Chief of the Rainy River First Nation, and Grand Chiefs Francis Kavanaugh and Alvin Fiddler, called for the chief of the Thunder Bay police force to resign or be fired over the investigation of the death of Stacy DeBungee, an Indigenous man in 2015.

DeBungee’s body was found in the McIntyre River in Thunder Bay. An independent report on the police investigation into the death found there were “serious deficiencies.” The victim’s brother said that the police immediately dismissed the death as not suspicious, and did little to no investigation. According to Brad DeBungee, the officers neglected to canvass witnesses, and ignored a woman who confessed to pushing Stacy DeBungee into the river. That woman has since died.

This case happened during an inquiry into the deaths of seven more First Nations people in rivers in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011. They were all initially deemed accidental, with alcohol involved. A coroner’s inquest changed that determination to “undetermined” in three of those cases. Which means there could have been foul play involved.

Then there’s the case of Barbara Kentner, a First Nations woman who was hit by a trailer hitch thrown from a passing car in January 2017 in Thunder Bay. The passenger in the car yelled “Oh, I got one,” after throwing the hitch. Ms. Kentner died of her injuries in July. Brayden Bushby, who was 18 at the time, has been arrested and charged. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 10.

First Nations people, including relatives of the victim, say it’s not uncommon for them to have things thrown at them from passing cars in Thunder Bay.

Do you see a pattern here? Blatant racially motivated violence and lack of concern over it by police.

But Thunder Bay is not the only place where this goes on.

Last month, Gerald Stanley of Saskatchewan was acquitted of killing Colton Boushie, a First Nations man.

The fact that Stanley shot Boushie is not in dispute. He claimed he was not responsible, that the rifle in his hands went off accidentally, and the jury believed him.

Or rather, the Crown prosecutors did not convince the jury that he was guilty beyond doubt. That’s the way our criminal courts work—which is good.

What is not good is that the investigators and prosecutors did not even try. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP has begun investigation into the original investigation of the event, to determine whether it was done “reasonably” and whether race was a factor.

You think?

The RCMP did not take photos of the evidence at the scene for hours, until after dark. They then left the vehicle where Boushie died uncovered, in the rain, for two days. They did not test it for blood or gunpowder residue.

The RCMP took Gerald Stanley to their detachment to take photos, then let him go, allowing him to return the following day to make a statement. Which means he had opportunity to confer with other witnesses. The RCMP did not even take his shirt, losing potential evidence of blood spatter and gunpowder residue.

According to Boushie’s family, the RCMP were much more assiduous in investigating them. They rushed to his mother’s home in two cars and came in with weapons drawn. After announcing to Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s mother, that her son was dead, they asked whether she’d been drinking and searched the home.

Communication: it’s what police do

A criminal case, particularly when it gets to court, is a particular exercise in communication. Investigators find facts, then link them to build an argument, or case. A Crown prosecutor (that’s what we call them in Canada) then presents that story to a jury or a judge, who decides whether to believe the story or find it less than convincing.

In our system, it’s up to the prosecutor to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If they fail to do that, the jury is obliged to find the defendant not guilty.

In Saskatchewan, the Crown failed to make its case convincingly. It’s as if the RCMP were trying not to collect a convincing weight of evidence.

The same story plays out across the country wherever Indigenous people are involved. Over and over, white people get away with murder when it comes to Indigenous people.

We’re not what we say we are

Canadians like to think of ourselves as open, inclusive and fair. And we like to project that image to the world. But the image fails under the lightest scrutiny.

Canada has consistently failed to treat Indigenous people fairly. We’ve known it for a very long time. We have accepted this contradiction between what we say to visitors and immigrants, and the way we treat Indigenous Canadians.

The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls only got started  last year, after years of being opposed by the previous Prime Minister.

Governments budget less than half as much money per student in an Indigenous community. More than 100 First Nations communities in this country don’t have clean drinking water. Some have been boiling their water for decades. And it’s only in the past two years that any effort has been taken to correct this.

When did our civilization decide that ensuring its people had safe water to drink was a priority for government? Oh, yah, about 5,000 years ago.

It’s time we non-Indigenous Canadians—okay, I’ll say it: white—acknowledged how badly we’ve been treating Indigenous people.

It’s time to change. And if the police at any level, across the country, can’t, it’s time to change the police.

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