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Justice for Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine

Valerie Lannon

February 24, 2018

By now we are all familiar with the double tragedy surrounding 22-year old Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation on the prairies: his murder in 2016, and the acquittal by an all-white jury that caused anger across the country among Indigenous people and many settlers alike.

The process used for this case was problematic from the beginning. Police failed to properly collect all the evidence. Most people’s antennae went up when an all-white jury was chosen. Using “peremptory challenges” lawyers refused potential jurors without giving any reason. Due to the obvious potential for bias, this practice has been eliminated in the UK and the US.

Following the jury decision, the Boushie family flew to Ottawa to seek justice from Trudeau and various cabinet ministers. True to form, Trudeau’s reaction was to simply say, “as a country we must and can do better.”

No sooner had this government non-response come out than the jury decision around the murder of 15-year old Tina Fontaine (Sagkeeng First Nation) was released, another acquittal. Her murder in 2014, where she was wrapped in bedding and discarded in a Winnipeg river, was the final straw that led to the establishment of the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. As a child in “protective” care, she was horribly failed by the state, including child services and the police.

Reaction from indigenous activists to the jury decisions has been swift, with dozens of Boushie family and Fontaine family solidarity rallies conducted in many cities.

The government says it will “look into” changes to the legal system and promised a new legal framework for ensuring Indigenous rights, as was supposed to have happened with Section 35 of the Constitution. But nowhere are treaties or the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mentioned. That’s because the Liberals have no intention of respecting Indigenous sovereignty if it means any possibility of interfering with resource company profits. As Mi’kmaq lawyer and activist Pam Palmater said “The question that he (Trudeau) never talks about in any of speeches or announcements is lands, resources and power. Those are big ticket items that are the crux of reconciliation.”

All of us need to stand behind Indigenous activists in their demands for a genuine justice system based on Indigenous traditions. This can only happen when enough people support true Indigenous sovereignty, which would allow Indigenous control over resources in their territories, and adherence to indigenous laws.

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