The killing of Colten Boushie and Canada’s hypocrisy

What does the killing of an Indigenous man, and the acquittal of his killer, say about Canada’s anti-racist credentials?

justice for colten al jazeera
Earlier this month, an all-white jury acquitted a white farmer in the shooting death of 22-year-old Indigenous man Colten Boushie [Al Jazeera]

Myths can be as powerful as they are pernicious.

John F Kennedy, a reckless president who behaved dangerously in private and public, appeared to understand this, not only perhaps about his true character, but about the true character of America.

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic,” Kennedy told Yale University students in a commencement address on June 11, 1962. “Too often, we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears … We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

I was recently reminded of Kennedy’s rare moment of sincerity when Canada and its peoples were confronted, once more, with the powerful and pernicious myths still fixed in the minds of Canadians and outsiders alike, about a profoundly troubled nation and its defamatory past, present and – unless the repugnant truth is finally acknowledged – future.

The prevailing, comforting opinion, promoted by a coterie of observers unencumbered by the discomfort of thought, is that Canada is an oasis of harmony, tolerance and tranquillity, particularly when compared with the spigot of ignorance, hate and violence that defines Donald Trump‘s America.

That risible myth about the true character of Canada was punctured in the raw, revealing aftermath of the acquittal in a Saskatchewan courtroom earlier this month of a white farmer by an all-white jury, in the shooting death of a 22-year-old indigenous man, Colten Boushie.

In an instant, the halting verdict made plain what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s duplicitous stunts, tweets and carefully calibrated photo ops attempt, in part, to camouflage: Canadians are largely unrepentant settlers on native land who have, historically and systematically, employed every “legal” means conceivable, and deemed necessary, to continue to colonise, marginalise, stigmatise, demonise and brutalise indigenous peoples as forgettable, expendable, disposable commodities.

What happened to Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, and his grieving family inside and outside a monochromatic, Canadian-made courtroom is further, unassailable evidence of this, by now, well-established fact.

Here are the other instructive facts: The white farmer said he feared that Boushie, along with four confederates who ventured onto his property in August 2016 for help with a flat tire, was going to rob him. So, he and his son armed themselves before challenging the interlopers, who had been swimming and drinking.


The farmer said, in the ensuing confrontation, he accidentally shot Boushie – who was sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle – with a semi-automatic weapon in the back of the head, after firing two warning shots.

Boushie’s family says, from the outset, police treated them not only with suspicion and contempt, but as perpetrators, not victims.

Still, the farmer was charged with second-degree murder. Later, the defence successfully excluded five visibly indigenous people from sitting on the jury, ensuring the white farmer’s fate would be decided by his all-white peers.

After deliberating for little over 15 hours, the all-white jury found the white farmer not guilty, even rejecting the option of convicting him of manslaughter.

Freed, the white farmer ran from the courtroom, trailed in hurried, near-frantic order by the white jury that had just exonerated him.

Meanwhile, yet another indigenous man was dead, treated, yet again, by the white settlers’ “justice” system as a forgettable, expendable, disposable commodity, rather than a human being with hopes, dreams, flaws and a loving family that mourns his “accidental” death, and tries, yet again, to remedy the injustice visited upon them.

It’s the same white settlers’ “justice” system that treated thousands of indigenous children, forced into barbaric, white, Christian assimilation mills – euphemistically known as “residential schools” – as forgettable, expendable and disposable commodities.

It’s the same white settlers’ “justice” system that has, for generations, viewed thousands of disappeared and murdered indigenous girls and women as forgettable, expendable and disposable commodities.

It’s the same white settlers’ “justice” system that incarcerates indigenous people at rates 10 times higher than the rate of non-indigenous people, rendering them, in effect, forgettable, expendable and disposable commodities.

And it’s the same white settlers’ “justice” system that ultimately believed Colten Boushie to be a forgettable, expendable, and disposable commodity, since it judged a white farmer’s belongings more valuable than a young, indigenous man’s life.  

While many Canadians rallied to the Boushie family’s side, too many other Canadians sided with the inherently racist nature of the white settlers’ judicial “system”, insisting that Colten “got what he deserved” on a farm that summer’s day almost two years ago, and in a Battleford court almost two weeks ago.

Indeed, one member of the police force that investigated Boushie’s killing allegedly wrote precisely that on a private Facebook group used by Canadian police officers.

The anonymous RCMP officer, who reportedly polices a First Nations community in western Canada, shared the following with brother and sister police: “Too bad the kid died but he got what he deserved … Crimes were committed and a jury found the man not guilty of protecting his home and family. It should be sending a message to the criminal element that this crap is not going to be tolerated and if you value your life then stay away from what isn’t yours.”

Remember, since the RCMP officer apparently forgot, Colten Boushie was the victim, not the perpetrator.

In the face of a torrent of this kind of ugly, but unsurprising, vitriol, Boushie’s family met Trudeau in Ottawa last week, urging him to enact recommendations made years ago by a judicial inquiry to reform how juries are selected, and to address the racism endemic throughout the police and courts. In return, Trudeau pledged belatedly to make “concrete changes”.

The inexorable problem is that Trudeau and his predecessors have made scores of soothing-sounding promises, only to renege on those supposedly iron-clad commitments to indigenous peoples when it was politically expedient to do so. So, in the end, Canadian politicians have considered indigenous peoples forgettable, expendable, and disposable, too.

Stripped of all the polite embroidery, white settlers have lied too often to indigenous peoples to be believed.

But Canadians have also lied to themselves – habitually. They have lied about their “concern” for indigenous people. They have lied about “listening” to indigenous people. They have lied about “making amends” to indigenous people. They have lied about “righting” the litany of wrongs they have exacted on indigenous people. They have lied about “reconciliation” with indigenous people.

Canadians prefer, instead, to cling to the smug, exculpatory myths about the “good, decent” Canadian. They prefer that myth to remain undisturbed by the truth.

Well, the truth about how Canadians regard indigenous people is apparent for the world to see.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.