Unfair and unwarranted: lawyers group responds to Gerald Stanley verdict criticism

Judge, lawyers and jury "did their best in fulfilling their oath and duty to society," says Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association

The Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association has issued a statement against what it says are unfair accusations in aftermath of Gerald Stanley not-guilty verdict.

The statement, issued by Nicholas J. Stooshinoff, Q.C., STLA president, says the judge, lawyers and jury have had unfair and unwarranted comments directed toward them after the trial into the death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.

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Boushie was shot and killed on Stanley’s property in rural Saskatchewan on Aug. 9, 2016. Boushie was a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation.

Gerald Stanley Colten Boushie
Gerald Stanley leaves courthouse with police escort after the verdict of not guilty was announced. - AVERIL HALL

A jury found Stanley non-guilty of second-degree murder. The verdict prompted a widespread outcry about racism in Canada’s court system, including a heated debate on the apparent lack of First Nations representation on the jury.

That night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted “I can't imagine the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling tonight. Sending love to them from the US.”

colten boushie
22-year-old Colten Boushie was shot and killed on a farm in Saskatchewan in August 2016. - Facebook

The following is the statement from the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association:

The STLA is a voluntary membership association comprised of trial lawyers representing clients in family court matters, civil litigation and criminal defence charges. We wish to express our concerns over uninformed comments made by politicians, citizens and some members of the Bar who have unfairly criticized the judge, jurors, prosecutors and defence counsel on the Gerald Stanley murder trial.

Firstly, the members of the STLA wishes to express their deepest sympathies to the family and community of Colten Boushie.

Secondly, as an organization we have long advocated for solutions to systemic inequities in our legal system; specifically, the over-representation of First Nations, Métis and Aboriginal persons in our judicial and corrections systems. We fully recognize the historical inequities within Canadian society that led to much of the societal problems and poverty that are the direct causes of these historically unbalanced systems.

However, many of the comments directed to the judge, the lawyers involved in the matter, and the jury are unfair and unwarranted.

In particular, members of the judiciary in Canada are not permitted to publically defend themselves, their decisions, or their rulings. The criticism of the trial judge in this case is unwarranted. By all accounts, the trial judge in the Stanley trial conducted himself with the utmost integrity, fairness, and in accordance with all applicable judicial standards and principles. If the trial judge erred in any of his rulings of law it is for the Court of Appeal to determine.

Defence counsel in this case, like all defence counsel, swore an oath to defend his client and to advance all legal defences available to his client by law and on the evidence before the court. He kept his oath. The role of the Crown prosecutor is to advance all relevant evidence on behalf of the state, and to do so fairly, objectively and impartial to the interests of the victim and the accused. This does not mean that the Crown is not allowed to put forward a theory or explanation based on his view of the evidence. In this case the Crown vigorously argued for conviction on second degree murder and, alternatively, manslaughter. Crown counsel fulfilled his duty to the court, the administration of justice, and to all parties involved.

Finally, the jurors, who were called upon to perform their civic duty, did so to the best of their ability. These are ordinary men and women who were compelled to attend and sit in judgment of their fellow citizen. It is a thankless and difficult task but it is one of the highest duties a citizen can perform in our democracy. These citizens were chosen at random and took an oath to render their verdict based only on the evidence presented before them. They cannot speculate. They must set aside their biases and personal opinions and reach a verdict based on that evidence. There is no evidence to suggest that they did not honour their oath. It is unfair to suggest otherwise because the jury is also powerless to defend itself, as it is a criminal offence in Canada for a juror to release any information about their deliberations.

There are those that strongly support the verdict and those that strongly oppose the verdict but the STLA urges all citizens to refrain from unfair accusations about the participants in the trial and to recognize that all did their best in fulfilling their oath and duty to society.

 

This story first appeared in the Battlefords News-Optimist which had extensive coverage of the trial and its aftermath.

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