About 300 Edmontonians took to the streets Sunday to speak out against a justice system they see as broken, in the wake of non-guilty verdicts for the people accused of killing Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.
Edmontonians of all backgrounds gathered at Churchill Square to address a perceived pattern of injustice and inequality in the Canadian justice system towards Indigenous people. They then marched past Edmonton Police Service downtown headquarters as well as the Edmonton Law Courts.
Those in attendance pointed to the fact that Gerald Stanley, the man who killed Boushie on a Saskatchewan rural property, was acquitted by an all-white jury, and said Fontaine was failed by the child services system even before she was killed.
“When I first heard about Colten Boushie, my first thought was ‘My God that could have been my son’,” said Sarah Auger, who attended the rally.
“When I first heard about Tina Fontaine, I thought ‘My God that could have been my granddaughter’. There is no logic to what is happening to us,” Auger added. “There is no logic to why people are getting away with killing our children. That’s why I’m here.”
Organizer Theresa Mackenzie Whiskeyjack said she was encouraged to see so many Edmontonians stand together for the cause.
“It was very heart warming and powerful to see so many people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, gathering to get justice for all the lives that have been lost,” Mackenzie Whiskeyjack said.
“Every single life matters,” she added. “And justice should be had for every person that has been wronged.”
Co-organizer Stephanie Harpe said the time for action is urgent.
“We’re in crisis,” she said. “Everything that’s set up to protect us and do right by us, it’s not happening. We have to start doing things on our own.”
She said it’s up to young Canadians and grassroots groups to incite change in the system, contending that young people are the ones most profoundly being let down by the justice system.
“We know what’s right. You see what’s wrong. We have no more goddamn time for grey areas in between anymore … No more talking,” Harpe said.
Rochelle Starr, a woman of Metis descent, said she came to the rally because she was tired of living in a state of fear.
She said the child welfare, justice, education and healthcare systems have all let down Indigenous people in Canada.
She also had strong words for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which she says is not doing enough to improve the lives of Indigenous people.
“To me reconciliation is just a dirty word now,” Starr said. “Ever since the TRC first came out, everything is getting worse. People are exhibiting more racism, the justice system as we know is totally corrupt. And our children are the ones being affected.
“People think we’re making progress … the reality is things are getting worse,” Starr added. “There’s more kids in foster care right now than there ever was at the height of residential schools.”
Jade Tootoosis, Boushie’s cousin, was also in attendance at the rally. She said she was heartened to see so many people standing together in support of her family.
She also extended her condolences to Fontaine’s family.
“Know that our hearts are with you and we feel your pain,” she said.
She ended her remarks with a message towards all Indigenous youth in North America.
“To all the Indigenous youth across Turtle Island, you are not criminals … You are valuable, you are smart and you are resilient,” Tootoosis said.
“You are loved and you are important. Don’t forget that.”
This story was originally published in Metro Edmonton.