Online backlash over shooting death fuels racial tensions

By Lloyd Dohla

Saskatchewan First Nations leaders are condemning the provincial RCMP’s handling of the fatal shooting of a young unarmed aboriginal man near Biggar, Sask. by a local farmer.
Colten Boushie, 22, was killed after the vehicle he was in with friends drove onto a farm in the rural municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon, on Tuesday, August 10th, 2016.
Boushie’s cousin, Eric Meechance said he and three other friends were also in the car and were on their way home to the Red Pheasant First Nation after spending an afternoon swimming at a river.

"ColtenBoushie" Caption: Boushie was 22 years old when he was fatally shot. Photo: Facebook

“ColtenBoushie” Caption: Boushie was 22 years old when he was fatally shot. Photo: Facebook

Meechance said they had a tire go flat and drove to the farm looking for help when Boushie was shot.
“That guy just came out of nowhere and just smashed our window,” said Meechance, in a CP interview. Meechance said they tried to drive away but collided with a parked car. The friends then ran for safety. “Running is probably what saved our lives, you know, because if he’s going to shoot one, he probably would have shot us all,” he said. “He wasn’t shooting to scare us. He was shooting to kill.”

Gerald Stanley, 54, is charged with second-degree murder. The first RCMP news release said that the people in the car had been taken into custody as part of a theft investigation. Leaders of the Federation of Sovereign Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations (FSIN), formerly the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said the shooting death of the young man brings to light Saskatchewan’s underlying racial issues and tension between the communities. They say the RCMP’s initial release about the fatal shooting was biased and influenced subsequent media reports and an online racist public backlash against the province’s First Nations people.

“The family of Colten Boushie is devastated by the loss of their son,” said Chief Clint Wuttunee of the Red Pheasant First Nation. “The media’s initial portrayal of the event made the incident sound like a crime was about to be committed by the passengers in the car. The media based their reports on the RCMP’s press release.” FSIN leader Chief Bobby Cameron said they are extremely disappointed in the RCMP’s handling of the case. “The news release the RCMP issued the following day provided just enough prejudicial information for the average reader to draw their own conclusions that the shooting was somehow justified,” said the grand chief. “The messaging in an a RCMP news release should not fuel racial tensions.”

In a statement issued late Friday, August 12th, Saskatchewan RCMP Supt. Rob Cameron expressed his condolences to the friends and family of Colten Boushie and addressed the FSIN statement about the issue. “It is deeply concerning for us as the provincial police service to hear one of our media releases categorized as biased and not in line with the relationship we have developed with the FSIN and all the communities we serve, he said. “We have heard the concerns of the FSIN and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them and work together to address them. The FSIN is one of our essential partners and we value this partnership and their input greatly.

Cameron said the provincial RCMP force needs the support of its partners and the communities they serve to keep the province safe. The Supt. Cameron added comments made on social media are concerning and could be construed as criminal in nature. “It’s understandable that during a situation like this emotions run high, but it is important to let the court process run its course,” he said. “Therefore, I ask for everyone to be respectful in their online communication.”

Since the incident, racist comments about the shot and slain youth have appeared on Facebook and other social media sites. Some have been taken down, but screenshots of the comments are still circulating online. AFN national chief Perry Bellgarde condemned the racist online comments made in the wake of the tragedy. “To see racist, derogatory comments about this young man and about First Nations people online and on social media on response to this tragedy is profoundly disturbing … they are racist and insensitive and ignorant. They are disheartening and a stark reminder of how much work we have to do to eliminate racism and discrimination. In too many ways, this is a sad day for Saskatchewan.”

The FSIN executive is demanding an immediate strategy from the top Sask. RCMP to examine whether the shooting is a crime based on race – a hate crime. The FSIN is calling for a review of the RCMP’s communication policies and writing guidelines in respect to the August 10th, media release about the shooting incident. “The people of this province deserve an immediate strategy to be put in plane by all levels of leaders in order to feel safe, including the assurance that this tragedy will be investigated for what it is, a crime based on race. Coulen Boushie deserves justice and anything else is unacceptable.”