Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, is calling on people of faith to pray for those affected by the shooting death of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous young man, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of Gerald Stanley, the Saskatchewan farmer accused of killing him. Hiltz also sought prayers for “the needs for reform in the justice system.”
“With great empathy, we especially remember the Boushie family and Red Pheasant First Nation,” said Hiltz, in a statement released February 21.
The statement also encourages people of faith to respond through action. “We encourage you to attend or organize public events in your community. They could be opportunities for listening, learning, advocacy, and action concerning human rights, racism, and justice.”
Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was fatally shot Aug. 9, 2016, after he and four others drove onto Stanley’s cattle farm near Biggar, Sask. Stanley testified that the shot was accidental and possibly due to a malfunction known as a hang fire. On Feb. 9, 2018, a Saskatchewan jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder.
The acquittal has fuelled racial tensions in Saskatchewan, where some see the verdict as fair and others as racially biased. It also prompted protests and calls for justice reform across the country.
The statement expresses support for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s call for a review of the peremptory challenge in jury selection.a full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Using the peremptory challenge, lawyers currently can reject prospective jurors without giving a reason, which the Boushie family’s lawyer and others argue was used by the defence in Stanley’s trial to block Indigenous people from sitting on the jury.
The primate’s statement references Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci’s 2013 report, “First Nations Representation in Ontario Juries,” which found that “underrepresentation of First Nations People living on reserves was a symptom of a much larger crisis in the relationship between Ontario’s Justice System and Indigenous Peoples,” a finding that the primate’s statement asserts “is not unique to Ontario.”
‘An appeal for a good conscience’
The primate’s statement points out “many issues concerning the case,” which have stoked outrage across the country, including that Boushie’s body “lay face down in the gravel of the farmyard for twenty-four hours,” the “insensitive manner” in which the RCMP notified Boushie’s family of his death, “the chaos around informing the Boushie family of Gerald Stanley’s first court appearance,” the lack of visible Indigenous representation on the jury that acquitted Stanley, “excessive” security measures in the early days of the trial “as if ‘to protect’ those gathered from the Boushie family and the large numbers of Indigenous Peoples assembled” and the “complicated grief” experienced by the Boushie family.
The statement also acknowledges “growing anger that Canada’s justice system fails Indigenous people with an alarming consistency,” mounting frustration with lack of reform and “the ugly reality that racism is so systemic and embedded in this country that it seems invisible until in some particular tragedy or travesty of justice it is exposed in such a way to render it undeniable in the public realm.”
“Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has exposed the historic racism toward First Peoples of this land,” the statement reads, adding that several other commissions have revealed racist treatment of Black, Asian and Jewish immigrants in Canada and the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War.
‘We declare that racism is evil’
The primate’s statement, entitled ‘An appeal for a good conscience’ (1 Peter 3:21), is broken down into responses to events surrounding the Boushie case “as people of faith,” “as members of the Anglican Church of Canada” and “as citizens of Canada.”
As people of faith, the statement says, “We declare that racism is evil” and “in fundamental conflict with the truth that God created all peoples with an equal love and endowed each with an equal dignity.”
As members of the Anglican Church of Canada, the statement notes the Charter of Racial Justice endorsed by General Synod in 2004. “We call every diocese in our Church to endorse and embrace the Charter of Racial Justice and encourage our bishops to commend it for endorsing and embracing by every parish within their dioceses.”
It cites that a number of dioceses require anti-racism training for candidates for ordination and those who serve on diocesan committees and councils. “We call on every diocese to consider acting accordingly,” says the statement, which also states a commitment to anti-racism training “for all who serve in the councils and committees of the General Synod.”
The statement calls attention to the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. It highlights Calls 28 and 57, urging law schools in Canada to require courses on “Aboriginal People and the law” that include “the history and legacy of Residential Schools, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal Rights, Indigenous law and Indigenous Crown Relations,” and on all levels of government to provide education on the same topics to public servants.
Calls 39 and 40, for a national plan for collecting and publishing data on the criminal victimization of Indigenous people, and “adequately funded Aboriginal specific victim programs” respectively, are also highlighted in the primate’s statement.
As citizens of Canada, “We recognize that there is no real hope of reconciliation without confronting the racism so deeply embedded in our structures and social systems,” the statement reads. “We encourage a renewed commitment to the values in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
“It is important that we stand together in this time. There is an urgency about our common witness, and that urgency is informed by the Word of God,” Hiltz concludes. The statement also includes a biblical passage, Amos 5:22–24, which ends with the verse, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The primate includes a list of actions to help address racism, including reading the UNDRIP aloud in a parish, pledging to read the TRC’s Final Report, writing to or meeting with a member of Parliament and inviting an Indigenous elder or leader to speak or preach at church.