- Featured in Robson Crim
The Criminalization of Non-Assimilation & Property Rights in the Canadian Prairies by LAUREN SAPIC
The tragic case of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man from Saskatchewan, has become an inflexion point in Canadian law due to the intersection of Indigenous rights and property law. Boushie was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley, a white man, at his farm; he was subsequently found not guilty of his murder. Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, was informed of her son’s death by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) when they entered the family home in the middle of the night, waking small children by their unannounced entry. When Baptiste fell to the ground due to the overwhelming grief over the news of her son’s death, the RCMP accused Baptiste of drinking and told her to “get herself together.”1
One question that the Colten Boushie case brings sharply into focus is how policies in Canadian property law have privileged white settlers’ property rights as a result of the subjugation of Indigenous human rights. This has created a position of “tutelage” under property law for Indigenous peoples, which was adopted when Canada inherited sovereignty and underlying title to Canadian land from previous European powers which had been present in North America.2 The racist policies of assimilation, which are the foundation of Canadian property laws, have helped to form the legal injustice of the Boushie case; its basis originated in the settler state policy of the “civilization” of Canada’s original inhabitants.
By analyzing how, arguably, the majority of settler-state property law was set up to negate the rights of Indigenous peoples, I intend to emphasize how the concept of defending one’s property has not only allowed Gerald Stanley’s “exculpation from blame”, but also a “tacit justification” of the murder of another human being.3 What is required to correct this is an overhaul of the Canadian property law system, with a focus on negating the abuse of Indigenous men and the abuse of the property law system itself. To acknowledge these abuses to their fullest extent, however, would be acknowledging the shortcomings of a legal property framework that created a country. The implications in making significant changes in property law going forward are substantial.