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Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case

by Kent Roach


Settler or Indigenous, it’s impossible to approach Kent Roach’s Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case without baggage. As an Indigenous person, this might include still-fresh traumas – including the injury of being written about, in this case without informing or seeking consent from Colten Boushie’s family or communities. As a settler, this baggage is that of the Canadian condition: racism toward Indigenous peoples created and nurtured intergenerationally, through stereotype and the Canadian justice system.

Roach examines the 2018 criminal trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, unpacking the legal and cultural ramifications of the white defendant’s acquittal on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of 22-year-old Boushie of Red Pheasant First Nation. Firmly, Roach argues, “the Stanley/Boushie case will not and should not go away.” The Boushies, the Stanleys, and other first-hand participants in the case were purposely not interviewed for this book, as the author believes those stories belong to those people. Roach’s interest is “historical, political, social, and legal.”

The author, a professor of law at the University of Toronto, uses the case against Stanley, in which an all-white jury acquitted the farmer, as a lens through which to explore a pervasive problem plaguing Canadian justice and its application: a disparity that manifested in this case in unfair jury selection. Roach’s focus on polarization in the legal system is a significant one, as this has been active since settlers first colonized this land; as Roach puts it, “different perspectives on justice mean that the Canadian justice system has, almost from the start, resulted in injustice for Indigenous people.”

Roach presents support for his assertions – citing historical sources alongside contemporary Indigenous writers, thinkers, and lawyers – in focused, generally short sections. These allow readers to digest each part of the argument before moving forward, and provide an accessible approach to the large scope this book covers. Importantly, Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice provides crucial background that many who weighed in on Stanley’s criminal case failed to recognize: an analysis of Treaty 6, the legal agreements between Indigenous peoples and settlers on the land where Boushie was killed. Roach outlines the original misconceptions that occurred as Treaty 6 was debated, including the fact that miscommunications between nêhiyaw leader Mistahimaskwa and the settlers were not adequately addressed or were mistranslated in the English-language Treaty.

A historical understanding of law in Canada forms the basis of Roach’s analysis, and undergirds his approach in advocating for legal reforms that centre on justice for all, not justice for some. He argues that fundamental systemic change is needed if justice is truly to be served: “[W]hat would the outcome of the Stanley/Boushie case have been if it had been decided by a jury of six Indigenous and six non-Indigenous persons? In order to reach a verdict, there would have had to be a genuine appreciation of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on what happened on the Stanley farm: a meeting of minds that has been all too infrequent after the Treaties were signed, and sometimes, even while they were being negotiated.”

Many Indigenous peoples and settlers alike do not believe the Canadian legal system can or should be reformed when it comes to Indigenous justice. Kent Roach does.