Open Letter: Colten Boushie, Indigenous Peoples and the Need for Real Change to Canada’s Justice System


By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

The outcome of the trial of Gerald Stanley for the killing of Colten Boushie has once again thrown a spotlight on a longstanding and deeply troubling human rights concern in Canada: the way that the country’s justice system systematically fails Indigenous peoples – and as a consequence fails all Canadians.
The family of Colten Boushie has responded to their own tragic loss by calling on public officials to now engage in the urgent work of making the justice system fairer, more inclusive and more just. And it has been heartening to see the response they have received, including encouraging and supportive meetings with the Prime Minister, four Ministers and numerous Parliamentarians. Encouragement and support is important but is clearly not enough. What is needed is concrete action.
Right across the country there has been a remarkable outpouring of public disbelief, sympathy and outrage around the seeming inability of the justice system to treat the lives of young Indigenous people like Colten Boushie with the same dignity and value as all other people in Canada. Over the last week, we have seen a strong and clear demonstration of public recognition of the injustices at the heart of this case, of deep frustration that those injustices are notoriously systemic and entrenched, and of a strong appetite for real change.
Amnesty International stands with the family of Colten Boushie and all those voices across the country calling for meaningful reforms that will address the inequities and discrimination Indigenous peoples have long faced in Canada’s justice system.
In responding to this raw and important moment, Canada has the advantage of being able to draw on a number of expert, high level inquiries with respect to Indigenous Peoples, all of which have identified and examined the systemic biases and barriers that have long deniedjustice to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in all corners of the country. In the course of the past 22 years that has included the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at national level; and provincial inquiries such as the Saskatchewan Commission on First Nations and Métis Peoples and Justice Reform, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, and the Independent Review of First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries.
Each of these past inquiries was catalyzed by tragic losses and harm experienced by Indigenous families and communities. It is unacceptable for their recommendations to continue to be disregarded and consigned to gather dust on government shelves.
Many of the necessary reforms are well known, including greater representation of Indigenous peoples in the judiciary and legal profession, public education and cultural competency training for officials involved in the justice system and measures to increase Indigenous representation on juries.Amnesty International calls on Canadians to continue to express their concerns to their political representatives and to ask that those politicians make a clear and solemn commitment to pursue the changes to this country’s justice system that are needed to ensure it truly is a source of justice and not injustice for Indigenous Peoples.
We are mindful that any conversation about race and racism in our communities can be a magnet for individuals who seek to silence, intimidate and even threaten those who speak uncomfortable but necessary truths and push us to confront the need for profound societal and political change. We encourage Amnesty International members and supporters to do their part to help create space for the honest, respectful dialogue that is the foundation for ensuring human rights for all.