(This story has been updated to include comments from Bishop David Irving, of the diocese of Saskatoon.)
Following the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man, Saskatchewan bishops said that they “wish to join all those who are re-dedicating themselves to work for reconciliation and peace among all people in our communities and in our nation.”
In a statement released February 15, ten Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran bishops said that the events surrounding Boushie’s death, Stanley’s trial and the jury’s decision “have re-surfaced profound pain to families and communities. They have also raised enormously important questions and challenges for our province and our country.”
The bishops expressed support for “all those who are longing to escape the slavery of prejudice, racism, anger, frustration, violence and bitterness.”
Boushie, a Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, was fatally shot after he and four others drove onto Stanley’s property in August 2016. Stanley testified that the shot was accidental and possibly due to a malfunction known as a hang fire. A Saskatchewan jury found him not guilty of second degree murder on February 9.
The acquittal has fuelled racial tensions in the province, where some view it as a fair verdict and others, an unjust one. It has also sparked protests from thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians across the county and prompted calls for justice reform from Boushie’s family, who recently met with several government officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
According to the CBC, one of the things the family is asking for is a change to the way jurors are chosen. Under Canada’s Criminal Code, “peremptory challenges” allow defense lawyers and Crown prosecutors to reject potential jurors without giving any reason. Critics say that the defense team used peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous.
When asked by email why it was important to issue the statement, diocese of Saskatoon Bishop David Irving wrote that “over the last few years all of our churches in Saskatchewan have been working hard at ‘Relationship Building and Trust Building.’” He said that “some of these efforts have been undermined” by the death of Colten Boushie and the trial of Stanley.
“Many of our communities are really hurting and racism has come to the surface.”
Saskatchewan’s Anglican, Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic and Lutheran bishops have held quarterly meetings for a number of years, says Irving. The joint statement was agreed upon and developed at their January meeting.
The bishops’ statement underscored the value of pursuing peace, but notes that “the path to peace is more than simply avoiding conflict – it is a call to active engagement and to concrete action that builds right relationships.”
Building right relationships has been the goal of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the statement said, “and all are now being challenged and called to pursue that goal with renewed passion and commitment.”
Irving says he is meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Saskatoon Mark Hagemoen to discuss “how we can re-establish Indigenous relations” in the area around Biggar, Sask., where Boushie was killed.
“The people of the area, although hurt, seem motivated to strive to rebuild the broken relationship. We recognize there will have to be a slow patient approach and much conversation before we get there, but we will never get there if we do not sit down together.”
Among the signatories were Bishop Adam Halkett, Anglican Indigenous Bishop of Missinippi, diocese of Qu’Appelle Bishop Robert Hardwick, diocese of Saskatchewan Bishop Michael Hawkins and diocese of Saskatoon Bishop David Irving.The bishops offered prayers and reiterated their commitment to “to pursue meaningful, respectful dialogue and the building of positive relationships between all peoples.”
They also called on their communities and “the wider community” to “take concrete steps, in words and actions, in a spirit of humility and good will, rooted in profound prayer.”
The statement also reads, “We reject the evils of racism and division, and strive to work for peace and reconciliation for a renewed future.”
The Catholic and Lutheran bishops who signed the statement were Bishop Bryan Bayda (Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, Archbishop David Bolen (Catholic Archdiocese of Regina), Archbishop Murray Chatlain (Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas), Bishop Mark Hagemoen (Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon), Bishop Sid Haugan (Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) and Bishop Thévenot (Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert).