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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Tilting against the biggest books of all time: the Bible and Quran

I’m taking a huge chance here.

Last week, the news media were full of the story about York University in Toronto accommodating a male student’s request not to be put in a study group with women, on religious grounds.

The identity and specific religion of the student are protected under Canada’s privacy laws. Whatever religion it is, this case points to a long-standing problem.

I fully support freedom of religion, and will defend everyone’s right to believe and practice whatever they like, as long as it is not hurting anyone else nor infringing on any else’s rights. But it’s time we all stopped using religion or philosophy to excuse inexcusable behaviour and to justify unjustifiable ideas.

That’s right. I’m telling the world that I do not believe that you can use the Bible, the Quran, Mao’s little red book, the Communist Manifesto or any other book to defend your ideas. I just don’t accept the argument “because God says so.”

You can’t prove that, and the fact that you have a book that’s called “God’s words” does not constitute proof. I can write a book called “God’s Words, too.”


The devil is in the details

In September, 2013, sociology professor J. Paul Grayson assigned a mandatory group assignment that required students to work together in person. One student, who was taking the course online, asked Dr. Grayson to exempt him because his religious beliefs forbade him from meeting in public with a group of women.

<>Dr. Grayson refused the request, and after discussion, the student agreed to participate in the assignment and completed it. However, the university administration ordered Dr. Grayson to accommodate the request.

To his credit, Dr. Grayson refused the administration’s order to accommodate this religious request. “What if I said my religion frowns upon my interacting with blacks?” he wrote. This accommodate would set a precedent, he said, and make him an “accessory to sexism.”

The public reaction was telling and uplifting. I could not find a single person or opinion in the media that supported the religious accommodation. And rightfully so.

(The Dean of Arts at York University defended his action partly because the student asked to be able to complete the assignment in another way, and another online student who was situated outside the country was allowed another way to do the work.)

The media reaction

Every political leader in the country decried the university’s accommodation order. Every opinion speaker and writer I heard or read likewise sided with the professor. Every online comment also supported the professor, and pointed out that this type of religious accommodation damages women’s sexual equality rights, hard-won over the last century.

This is an example where the right of freedom to practice your religion conflicts with gender equality rights. Many Canadian schools provide prayer rooms, segregated by gender, as part of their “religious accommodation.” Canadian institutions — funded by Canadian taxpayers — accommodate religious practices that defy the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of the law that supposedly governs those institutions.

Religious versus human rights

I repeat, I support your right to believe and practice any religion you like. But I do not support anyone’s attempt to infringe on anyone else’s human rights. And equality of women and men is one of the most important.

I thought it was telling that CBC radio’s program, The Current, introduced this story with a clip of televangelist Pat Robertson saying that according to the Bible, men and women are not equal.

According to this logic, religion justifies unequal treatment and unequal rights between the sexes. It says so in the Bible.

I’m not trying to criticize any particular religion here, nor am I trying to open a general debate about crime and punishment. All I want to do is to point out the hypocrisy of the argument that goes: “I must do this/I cannot do that because the Bible/Quran/whatever other text I hold out as justification for every ridiculous idea that comes out of my mouth, says so.”

Crazy idea icon by mehagopijiji.
Licenced under Creative Commons.

Otherwise rational people are afraid to criticize religious beliefs and practices because they fear being branded as intolerant, racist, or xenophobic. Well, I’m none of those things, but I will say this: I don’t accept the “It’s God’s will” argument, because the people who use it don’t accept it, either.

Nobody actually follows the entire Bible, even though they say they do. Not even Pat Robertson. How many people sacrifice cattle to God? Does Pat Robertson? Yet Leviticus, the Biblical book that instructs believers in how to live every minute of their lives, tells readers to sacrifice bulls just about every day.

Have you ever seen a televangelist making that kind of sacrifice, or indeed, any kind of sacrifice of his own property?

Do religious leaders in Canada promote the death penalty for adultery? How many religious people think that’s okay? Should Canada accommodate religious sects that want to put adulterers to death?

From Leviticus, Chapter 20. Source: ReadBibleOnline.net

The Bible also tells believers to put homosexuals to death. I’m pretty sure that Canadian law does not accommodate this practice.

The Quran tells a husband to beat his wife — mildly, yes, but definitely to use force — if she defies his authority. Would Canadian law accommodate this? Would US law? I hope not.

No one follows any scriptures absolutely. No one in Canada can put adulterers or homosexuals to death. If they do, the law will punish them.

The point is that even the most religious choose among obligations to follow, adhering to some and ignoring others. It’s a human decision.

Not a divine one.

Basing all your life actions on an ancient book is an unsupportable idea. Every religious person chooses the scriptures he or she will follow, because no one follows all of them. No one can.

I won’t argue whether the Bible and Quran were divinely inspired, because I cannot change anyone’s belief on that point in a blog. But how about if I add this: God told me to write this post.

Prove to me that He (or She, or Whatever) did not.