(April 7, 2021) An independent report by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) into the shooting of Colten Boushie by Gerald Stanley in 2016 while sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV that was driven onto Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan in 2016 rebukes the RCMP as behaving in a discriminatory way.
The CRCC report, released in late March comes at a time when the RCMP is already awash in scathing criticism, partly as a result of former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache’s report “Broken Dreams Broken Lives” released in November 2020. Bastarche was asked to assess claims for compensation made by more than 2,000 women who had experienced sexual harassment and gender or sexual orientation based discrimination while working for the RCMP.
“What I learned led me to conclude that a toxic culture prevails in the RCMP,” wrote Justice Bastarache in his final report. “This culture encourages, or at least tolerates, misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes among many members of the RCMP.
“The level of violence and sexual assault that was reported was shocking. What the women told the assessors shocked them to their core. This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon.”
This, coupled with the consistently documented behaviour of the RCMP towards Indigenous and people of colour are rendering the force untrustworthy among large swaths of the Canadian population. More than 40 Indigenous people have been killed by police or died in custody in Ontario in the last 20 years.
The behaviour of the RCMP during the investigation of the shooting of Colten Boushie does nothing to redeem the reputation of the tarnished force and calls out ‘discriminatory’ behaviour by the RCMP in the way they dealt with young Boushie’s family.
Colten Boushie was shot when he and four friends from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Gerald Stanley’s Saskatoon property. Stanley was not guilty of second-degree murder at trial but the behaviour of the RCMP during its investigation was rebuked as the CRCC exposes the excruciating details about the RCMP’s treatment of Boushie’s family during the investigation.
Immediately after Boushie’s death, RCMP approached the Boushie residence assuming a much higher level of danger than the facts warranted, the report found. Racist stereotypes about Indigenous people coloured much of the RCMP’s treatment of Boushie’s death. Media releases from the RCMP in the weeks following the shooting emphasized “property offences” committed by Boushie’s friends, painting Boushie himself in the worst possible light and exposing his family to hateful harassment. In general, the report describes cruelly bad-faith behaviour towards Indigenous people that has become all too familiar in Canada.
The report also found that Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, was treated by the RCMP with unjustified suspicion, carrying long-barreled rifles generally reserved for military use into her home when they arrived to inform her of her son’s death.
“The Commission found that the RCMP members who notified Mr. Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, of his death treated her with such insensitivity that her treatment amounted to a prima facie case of discrimination. The RCMP members’ actions included questioning Ms. Baptiste about her sobriety, smelling her breath, and looking inside her microwave to verify her statement that she had put her now-deceased son’s dinner there.”
It took 10 months after the CRCC issued its interim report about the death of Colten Boushie for RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to provide a response, which accepted without debate almost all of the Commission’s findings, and every one of its recommendations.
Ms. Lucki has been criticized because of her claim that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the RCMP.
“Why does RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki still have a job?” asked Tanya Talaga, Anishinaabe journalist and speaker, in a column for the Globe and Mail.
“Ms. Lucki is the person who, one year ago, denied there was “systemic racism” in the force she leads, before back-pedalling days later. She is the one who did nothing while Mi’kmaq fishermen in Nova Scotia were terrorized for months last year, even though the fishermen were well within their rights to catch lobster.”
Now, says Talaga, Lucki is the one who will have to respond to and act on the CRCC report—made public March 26—that said Colten Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste was degraded after her son was shot and killed on Gerald Stanley’s Saskatchewan farm in 2016.
“The union, the National Police Federation (NPF), slammed the RCMP for its decision to accept the CRCC recommendations, calling into question the methodology of the watchdog itself,” reported CTV.
“it will take “a lot of hard work” to address systemic racism in the force given the police union’s response to a report on the treatment of Colten Boushie’s family,” said Lucki, as reported by CTV.
“It’s a brand-new union, recently started. A lot of work (ahead) with the relationship with the union, obviously. But you know it’s about the leadership, and it’s about providing a sort of start-to-finish—so making sure that when we go to our recruitment, that we are bringing in the right people,” she added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the actions of the RCMP, saying, the way [Boushie’s family] were treated was unacceptable…
“We have seen, unfortunately, examples of systemic racism within the RCMP, within many of our institutions, and we need to do better,” the CBC reported.
There is a discrepancy between federal and provincial messaging on the subject of systemic racism. While Saskatchewan’s Premier says systemic racism is real, [it] can be ended if everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.
The premiers of Canada’s most populous provinces are more circumspect.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford claims that systemic racism is a relatively superficial problem. And after the death of Joyce Echaquan, a Atikamekw woman, in September 2020, Quebec Premier Francois Legault claimed that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec. In the moments before her death in Joliette hospital, Echaquan live-streamed two nurses insulting her with racist slurs and questioned her right to treatment, saying she was “only good for sex” and would be “better off dead.”
While Debbie Baptiste and her family have received support of the Indigenous community, their struggle is far from over.
“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.”
Indigenous language: More than words July 2020