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The Globe and Mail

Colten Boushie and our insidious white privilege

Chris Murphy is the lawyer for Colten Boushie's family. He practices criminal law in Toronto

On Aug. 9, 2016, Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head and died. Four hours later, multiple RCMP vehicles rolled onto the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and surrounded the trailer where Colten's two brothers and mother Debbie Baptiste lived. (The trailer, which was raised three feet off the ground, hadn't had a working toilet for two years. Instead, feces and urine fell to the earth, where it froze in the winter and ripened in the summer. The trailer was also missing a number of windows, a luxury most Saskatchewanians employ to keep out the cold.) The RCMP told Ms. Baptiste and her surviving sons that Mr. Boushie was dead, then the RCMP searched Ms. Baptiste's trailer.

In December, Ms. Baptiste filed a complaint with the RCMP about how they treated her. The RCMP proceeded to investigate itself and – not surprisingly – dismissed the complaint against itself a few weeks ago.

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What followed has been an uptick in vitriolic and racially charged language on social media. Much of the "debate" – if that word can be used to describe online discussion any more – has been whether "white privilege" exists, and, if so, how should it be defined.

I am a white man who grew up on the predominantly white "east side" of Saskatoon. To the best of my recollection, there was one Indigenous student at my Catholic high school. I went to university in Saskatoon, where I hung out with my white friends, and didn't really get to know any Indigenous students. But, in a summer during law school, I worked as a special constable with the RCMP in North Battleford – the closest city to where Mr. Boushie died. I wasn't allowed to drive the police car, and I couldn't carry a gun, but otherwise I was an officer. And throughout my four-month tour, I acted like a police officer. I searched – without a warrant – the homes of Indigenous suspects and I went through the backpacks of Indigenous teenagers on the hunch that they were toting contraband.

One weekend that summer, I played in a slow-pitch tournament. There were no umpires. The final game was between an all-white team and an all-Indigenous team. In the bottom of the seventh, the game was tied, nobody on base, two out, and a big, hulking white guy at the plate. He singled sharply to right field, but tried to stretch it into a double. The throw came into second, and – in a bang-bang play – the Indigenous shortstop laid the tag on the calf of the runner just before his foot hit the bag. The white guy was out. But he wouldn't leave the field. The Indigenous shortstop pleaded politely, "C'mon, man, I got you." The white hulk shook his head and remained planted on the base. The shortstop continued his pleas until one of approximately 50 spectators yelled out – at the top of his lungs – "Shut the fuck up, you black bastard!" The shortstop complied, shutting up and going back to his position. Predictably, the next white batter knocked in the hulk with the winning run. The white team stormed the field to celebrate their championship.

White privilege does exist and, for me, it will always be defined as having the confidence to stand on second base even when you're out.

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