Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.
Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case. By Kent Roach. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022. xxii, 309 p. Includes bibliographic references and index. ISBN 9780228012122 (softcover) $27.95. <mqup.ca>.
Reviewed by F. Tim Knight
Associate Librarian, Head of Technical Services
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
On August 6, 2016, five young Indigenous people drove onto the Stanley family farm in a car with a flat tire. After seeing two of them attempt to start an ATV on his property, Gerald Stanley and his son ran toward the car, and the latter smashed the car’s windshield with a hammer. Those in the car tried to flee but collided with one of the Stanleys’ vehicles. Two of them then ran away on foot instead. In the meantime, Stanley retrieved an old pistol from a nearby shed and fired two warning shots into the air. He subsequently ran to the car and, while attempting to turn the vehicle off, his gun discharged, killing Colten Boushie, who was in the driver’s seat. Stanley later testified that he did not have his finger on the trigger and that the gun discharged accidentally. A jury acquitted him in 2018.
This 2022 paperback edition of Kent Roach’s 2019 text Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case includes a new preface by the author that outlines some of the developments that occurred in the intervening years. It is a valuable investigation into the experiences of Indigenous peoples when engaging with the criminal trial process.
The original foreword by John Burrows remains an excellent summary of the challenges that Indigenous people continually face in the Canadian justice system, beginning with the very first sentence: “Justice has been illusive for Indigenous Peoples in Canada” (p. vii). Roach’s examination of Boushie’s death and Stanley’s trial clearly demonstrates that the outcome and the ensuing resistance to publicly re-examine the proceedings were influenced by strongly held and polarized views steeped in prejudice toward Indigenous people, which are still found in Canadian society and its judicial system. As Roach says about wrongful convictions—or, as he calls this case on page 13, a possible “wrongful acquittal”—the adversarial approach to criminal justice proceedings relies on the best efforts of lawyers and may not always be the best way to discover the truth; that is to say, “the adversary system works until it doesn’t” (pp. 233–34).
Roach covers a lot of ground in this well-researched and thoughtfully laid out book, writing in a way that both non-lawyers and those steeped in the law will understand. Throughout, Roach considers the importance of framing the case not only within the context of Indigenous law and treaty rights, but also within the historical context of the local area of Battleford, Saskatchewan, where relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples have long been troubled and often violent. He notes that the local justice system has been influenced by this history, and things that “took place more than a century ago can still be relevant to understanding a trial process that took place between 2016 and 2018” (p. 12).
Roach points to many instances during the investigation and trial where errors were made and apparently ignored. For example, the failure of the RCMP to properly secure the crime scene meant it was soon contaminated by rain that washed away key evidence. Another example is that a controversial jury selection process did not guard against negative stereotypes about Indigenous people and resulted in an all-white jury. These kinds of failures, combined with the then-ongoing politicization of rural crime and recent legislation that expanded citizens’ rights to self-defence and defence of property, contributed, in Roach’s view, to a culture that “encouraged the use of guns when other less violent and proportionate alternatives are available” (p. 220). The new preface shows that things have not improved. In particular, Roach discusses the Crown’s refusal to appeal the verdict and the lack of any response to the ongoing calls for a public inquiry or coroner’s inquest into Boushie’s death, even after the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission substantiated a number of the claims about errors that had been made, prevented “a chance to learn from the pain of the case and [to] make recommendations to prevent similar Indigenous deaths in the future” (p. xvii).
Roach ends his book by considering how different the outcome might have been that evening in August 2016 if there had in fact been “respectful relations and better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities” (p. 231), as contemplated by Treaty 6, a document signed between the Canadian government and the local First Nations peoples in 1876. Treaty 6 had concepts of Cree law known as “miyo-wicehtowin or getting along, having good relations” (p. 231). If this idea of good relations had been present when the five young Indigenous people drove onto the Stanley family farm with their flat tire, the Stanleys might have seen them as people who needed help rather than a threat, and the five young Indigenous people, in turn, might have been more respectful of the Stanleys’ property and seen Gerald Stanley as someone who could help with their car. Without these good relations, however, and without attempts to develop a better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, the final two sentences in Roach’s new preface (p. xxi) will continue to ring true: “History continues to haunt us. History continues to repeat itself.”