OTTAWA – When seven police officers arrived at Debbie Baptiste’s house in August 2016, circling the house and carrying rifles, they informed her that her son was dead. Instead of comforting the grieving mother, they asked if she had been drinking and told her to “put it all together.”
Police’s persistent treatment of Ms. Baptiste, a Cree woman, as well as other incidents of racial discrimination against her family, were described in an independent review released Monday that examined the police’s conduct and investigation into the death of Colten Boushie, a 22 year old Cree man in Saskatchewan.
The damning report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission found that officers “treated Ms. Baptiste so insensitively that her treatment amounted to pretense of discrimination.” The surveillance group, which has no power to punish, also found that the police were unable to protect evidence at the scene where Mr. Boushie was killed and destroyed records of the handling of the case.
“It felt like I was forever fighting a battle that could never be won,” Ms. Baptiste said at a press conference Monday. “The injustices of racism in the courtroom, discrimination must stop. Things have to change. We need a change for the future generation. “
Mr Boushie was shot dead after he and four other Indians drove onto Gerald Stanley’s property in August 2016. Mr Stanley testified in court that he believed their goal was theft, which he and his son were trying to prevent.
Mr Stanley was acquitted in 2018 after testifying that he accidentally shot Mr Boushie in the back of the head when his semi-automatic pistol exhibited a rare mechanical malfunction. The verdict shocked many Indigenous Canadians.
In a country where politicians typically seek court rulings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has made healing Canada’s relations with its indigenous peoples a priority, posted a message of support and met with Mr Boushie’s family after the 2018 trial.
On Monday, Mr Trudeau told reporters that the treatment of Mr Boushie’s family and friends was “unacceptable”, adding, “Unfortunately, we have seen examples of systemic racism within the RCMP in many of our institutions and we need to do so.” better.”
The National Police Federation, a union that represents the mounted police force, disagreed with the report’s findings, saying it “promotes a perspective that disregards our members and challenges their impartiality, commitment and professionalism.” In a separate response to the report, the union dismissed the commission’s report on what happened at Ms. Baptiste, claiming that it “only reflected the Boushie family’s interpretation of the interaction” and not the reports of the officials present.
“The RCMP union is still asking the people of this country not to believe this woman,” Chris Murphy, lawyer for the Boushie family, told reporters. “Shame on you.”
The killing and acquittal remain a source of anger for many Indigenous Canadians who have argued the case, which has exposed significant flaws in the Canadian legal system. Mr. Boushie’s family and others said the police were racially discriminatory towards them while being respectful of a farmer who was ultimately charged with murder.
Mr. Boushie was out swimming with friends when a tire fell on her Ford Escape near Mr. Stanley’s farm in central Saskatchewan. Mr Stanley testified that he and his son believed the group, many of whom were drunk, tried to steal vehicles. The two men came out with guns and attacked the escape with a hammer. After Mr. Boushie was killed, the others fled.
As a result, the commission said, police descended on Ms. Baptiste’s home in Red Pheasant Cree Nation, her indigenous community, with two goals: to inform them of Mr. Boushie’s death and to look for a member of Mr. Boushie’s group Friends on a related investigation into theft and attempted theft. No one in the group was ultimately charged with theft.
Officers armed with rifles circled Ms. Baptiste’s home and told her about her son’s death when she came to the porch. After hearing the news, Ms. Baptiste collapsed and was taken to the house by police.
“MS. Baptiste was concerned about the news they had just given her. A member told her to bring it together,” the report said. “One or more RCMP members smelled their breath,” apparently because of it Signs of alcohol.
Despite not having a required search warrant, police officers ransacked Ms. Baptiste’s home.
Back at the scene, the report found lax investigative practices. Immediately thereafter, little effort was made to gather forensic evidence and little was done to protect evidence on-site. Despite bad weather predictions, the Ford Escape that killed Mr Boushie was uncovered, allowing rain to wash away blood spatter evidence before forensic scientists arrived about three days later, the commission said.
The commission said it also had “serious concerns” about the failure of the Serious Crimes Division to visit the scene when it took over the case. She also criticized the police for not telling Mr. Stanley, his wife, and son not to discuss the case with each other before making statements, and for being allowed to drive together in a family car to an assembled police station, the part the crime scene was.
The report also found that the police were destroying records and transcripts of their communications from the time of the murder, which were in accordance with standard on-hold protocols, but knowing that Mr Boushie’s family and the Commission had filed complaints for which these Files would have been relevant.
“We have recognized that there is systemic racism in the RCMP,” Mounted Police Saskatchewan said in a statement, adding that it plans to implement the recommendations in the commission’s report.
In addition to making recommendations that include reviewing the procedures with the officers involved in the case, as well as reviewing general Mounties practices in that part of Saskatchewan, the commission said that cultural awareness training should be offered to all police officers. “Taking into account the factors identified in the latest research. “
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who had the opportunity to comment on the Commission’s findings before it was published, said she accepted the main findings, despite rejecting a few small points in the report
“This entire judicial system from top to bottom must be restored,” said chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents the First Nations in Saskatchewan, at a press conference. “Brenda Lucki, what are you going to do instead of just saying that we agree with what has been found? Big thing. Brenda Lucki, do something. ”