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Colten Boushie’s mother fears property-defence resolution will stoke racial tensions

Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, looks on during a rally outside court in North Battleford, Sask., in August.

Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The mother of a young man killed on a Saskatchewan farm said she fears recent political developments threaten to escalate racial tension in the province.

Debbie Baptiste's son Colten Boushie was shot dead after he and his friends drove their vehicle on to a farm property near North Battleford in August. The farm owner, Gerald Stanley, is charged with second-degree murder and is awaiting a preliminary hearing at the start of April.

Ms. Baptiste said she's saddened that Saskatchewan's Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) passed a resolution that calls for an expansion of an individual's right to defend himself and his property. The resolution has been compared with so-called "stand your ground" laws in the United States, and passed with 93 per cent support from SARM's 2,000 delegates, mostly elected municipal officials, at a convention last week.

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The night Colten Boushie died: What family and police files say about his last day, and what came after

"This is going to be all cowboys and Indians," Ms. Baptiste said. "It's going to get really ugly …People out here are going to have to arm themselves."

Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) immediately took issue with the proposal last week, saying it was "shocked and disgusted."

"This resolution propels and encourages violence," FSIN Vice-Chief Kim Jonathan said in a statement. "Any strengthening of the rights of individuals to defend their property will result in an increase in violent confrontation and the deaths of more innocent people."

Vice-Chief Jonathan said she spoke with members of Mr. Boushie's family before meeting with SARM executives. She said they will now call for the resolution to be rescinded.

The resolution, which called for SARM to lobby the federal government on the legal change, was initiated by the municipality of Kindersley, located about 170 kilometres away from the Red Pheasant First Nation, where Mr. Boushie lived. His case has become a lightning rod for conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the province, and last summer Premier Brad Wall appealed to citizens to stop the "hateful and racist comments" that proliferated on social media in the aftermath. A little more than a month later the RCMP issued a public plea for farmers, who had been expressing anxiety about rural crime, to put away their weapons and not take the law into their own hands.

Ray Orb, president of SARM, said he doesn't believe the resolution will incite violence, and said that people are reading too much between the lines. He said there is genuine concern about safety and policing in rural communities, where the RCMP can take much longer to respond to a call than city police. He added that he was saddened by the reaction from Saskatchewan's Indigenous leadership and hopes to meet with them to dispel the controversy.

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"I think they're suspicious it was directed at them and honestly it wasn't directed at them at all. It was directed at the surge in crime around the province," Mr. Orb said.

Statistics show that Saskatchewan's crime severity index rose by 10 per cent between 2014 and 2015, driven in part by an increase in break-and-enters. Saskatchewan still has the highest crime rate in Canada, but over the last decade crime has been in significant decline in the province. This was the first notable increase since 2003, StatsCan said, and from 2005 to 2015 the crime severity index, a weighted measure that facilitates comparisons, is down 25 per cent.

"The SARM resolution, when it's boiled down, is farmers asking permission to shoot people who are stealing gas from their farm," said Chris Murphy, a lawyer representing the Boushie family. "You'd have to be blind to the current state of race relations in Saskatchewan to believe that you would not be more likely to be shot if you're First Nations."

Mr. Murphy said the resolution would do nothing more than make life more dangerous in the province.

"It's not going to stop the thefts. It's going to increase the likelihood of armed confrontation," he said.

Both Saskatchewan's Justice Minister, Gordon Wyant, and federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, threw cold water on the resolution.

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"While the frustration expressed in SARM's resolution is understandable," Mr. Goodale said in a statement, "the approach it suggests has failed to produce good results in other jurisdictions. Policing functions need to be performed by trained professionals."

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Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

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