Everyone can make a difference

I, like many, am still reeling over the outcome of the trial for the killing of Colten Boushie, which has dominated our news since Friday. I hope all our Indigenous students, residents, faculty, staff and patients know that your college supports you.

For me, the first shock was the use of peremptory challenge to eliminate anyone of Indigenous appearance from jury duty. As my wife had once served on a jury, I was familiar with this aspect of our criminal justice system, but it never occurred to me it could be used in such an openly racist manner here in Canada.

As I am in medicine and not law, I will make no further comment on the legal system. But this situation raises two questions for me.

First, what are we all doing this week, this month, and beyond to support Indigenous colleagues, learners, friends and patients? There is little doubt in my mind, if I was from any minority group that experienced this, my world would have changed on Friday night. It is incumbent on the non-Indigenous among us to reach out to our Indigenous community members and reaffirm our commitment to reconciliation and Indigenous health and well-being.

Second, as a part of the education, science and healthcare communities, what can we do to make things better, in response? As citizens we can take political action, and in our professional and learner roles, we can search for our own opportunities to make a positive change to the racism that still exists in our university and healthcare systems. As educators, we have a particular duty and opportunity, expressed by Senator Murray Sinclair, who identifies education as the key to reconciliation.

Our own actions can positively change the collective future of this province. We need to do this for our Indigenous colleagues and students and all members of our college. We need to acknowledge the hurt and anger and work toward a better society, one that is just and honourable. We need to create safe, respectful spaces to dialogue about racism. And we must respect, support and listen to Indigenous people as they make their voices heard.

Everyone can make a difference.

 

16 thoughts on “Everyone can make a difference

  1. Leadership and modeling a good-example for people to follow can have a positive impact on all sides. Role-modeling can be a very effective way to illustrate successful ways in which we can all discuss and address volatile issues.

    As a leader in a science-based organization, your opinion that “the use of peremptory challenge [was used] to eliminate anyone of Indigenous appearance from jury duty […] in such an openly racist manner here in Canada” doesn’t appear to be based on known fact. The defendant and his lawyer made no statements that racism was the basis of their decisions for preemptory challenges. For all we know, their basis could have been the “Justice for Colton” t-shirts which some potential jurors could have been wearing, or for any other legitimate reasons they are both not required to disclose. Indirectly, you have accused two light-skinned people of racism, without any factual basis; just jury-selection outcomes and public opinion.

    While we respect, support and listen to Indigenous people as they make their voices heard, let us not forget to model fact-based approaches to the “truth” component within Truth and Reconconciliation.

    • You are correct in that we don’t know why certain potential jurors were dismissed. That is the problem with peremptory challenges – no reason is required. This differs from challenges with cause which is the t-shirt example you give (you could easily justify potential bias in such a case). It’s the “without any stated reason” part of peremptory challenge that is worrisome to many of us. Sure it might be a coincidence that the entire jury ended up looking Caucasian, but it is reasonable to assume that a lawyer defending someone white for killing someone who isn’t white to dismiss non-white potential jurors if she/he has the ability.

  2. I was not going to leave a comment as the whole situation is tragic………..

    But I do take exception with the Dean of our School taking and articulating such a position. There are many imperfections within our society but I would hope the Dean would have perhaps thought this through a little bit more. The position of the Boards of Education, certainly have a more thoughtful and reasoned answer.

  3. Support and respect of Indigenous people should be constant pillars of our society. The fact that our nation is experiencing the effects of colonialism and systemic racism makes those pillars especially vital. However, I feel uncomfortable that the dean of our college has commented on the nature and outcome of the recent trial in such a manner. The dean’s commentary on the legal system, although limited in the post, seems inappropriate considering his (self-acknowledged) professional background. The attack on the jury selection does not acknowledge the intricacies and the evidence-based justifications behind the process.

    I am not suggesting the dean not express his opinions. Rather that the avenue of expression (this blog) makes his comments seem like an official statement from the leader of the College of Medicine. The divisive nature of the opening statement indirectly attacks the jurors and the defendant of the trial. When those people access health care, will they feel comfortable being the patient of a U of S medical graduate?

  4. Support and respect of Indigenous people should be constant pillars of our society. The fact that our nation is experiencing the effects of colonialism and systemic racism makes those pillars especially vital.

    However, I feel uncomfortable that the dean of our college has commented on the nature and outcome of the recent trial in such a manner. The dean’s commentary on the legal system, although limited in the post, seems inappropriate considering his (self-acknowledged) professional background. The attack on the jury selection does not acknowledge the intricacies and the evidence-based justifications behind the process.

    I am not suggesting the dean not express his opinions. Rather that the avenue of expression (this blog) makes his comments seem like a official statement from the leader of the College of Medicine. The divisive nature of the opening statement indirectly attacks the jurors and the defendant of the trial. When those people access health care, will they feel comfortable being the patient of a U of S medical graduate?

  5. Thank you Preston for this very thoughtful message of support and caring. As an Indigenous person on this campus, your message is comforting as I was feeling quite traumatized and stressed about coming to campus after the verdict. It is good to know non-Indigenous leadership supports and inspires us all to do better. It is not a matter I was directly involved in but it had direct impact on me, my family and my children. Your message reminds me there is safe space and openness to dialogue about racism within this college and beyond. The work to be done toward reconciliation and justice does not just rest on the shoulders of Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community.

  6. I too was upset at the final verdict of “not guilty”. I wonder if the jury would have come to same verdict if the victim was a non-indigenous male or female. To take it one step further, I wonder if the court would have insisted on only indigenous jurors if the accused was an indigenous person.

  7. I, apparently unlike you, continue to have faith in the justice system of Canada. I am disappointed that you took your position as Dean, College of Medicine to wade into a volatile issue. You were not present at the time of this incident nor were you part of a jury tasked with a very difficult responsibility. I particularly take exception to the choice of your use of the word “killing”- on Google defined as “an act of causing death, especially deliberately.”

    • You should please identify yourself.Anounimous contributors should not be welcomed in this kind of forum as it allows for comments that are not comforting at this particular time

  8. Thanks for this thoughtful response to the recent verdict Dr. Smith. There are many ways systemic racism creates an oppressive imbalance in society. Many forms are so institutionalized that they are “hidden” from view. We need to draw attention to them, & challenge them, whenever possible. Some are not so hidden – I’m not sure how the peremptory challenge can be looked upon as anything but an opportunity for a lawyer to use whatever bias they choose to select a jury more likely in sympathy with their case. It must leave especially marginalized social groups wondering how this can possibly lead to a more “just” society.

  9. Thank you, Preston, to your expression of concern about the potential impact of this trial outcome on all Indigenous people within Saskatchewan and beyond our borders. I have listened with a very heavy heart to the outpouring of profound disappointment and grief from some indigenous friends. As I have listened to them, I have come to realize that it may never be possible for any of us who have not experienced systemic racism to fully appreciate its oppressive impact upon the minds and hearts and souls of those who have experienced it.

    We all must do whatever we can to heal the harm we have collectively caused and to forge a more positive future.

  10. I am a bit uncomfortable the dean of the college of medicine is taking a strong and one sided position on this, a matter he was not involved in. And not sure the office of the Dean of Medicine should be used to post legal opinions from the experience of his wife.

    Certainly this is a time we need to take time to be respectful of the concerns of others, and listen and act respectfully, but I do not agree with the Dean taking what seems to be a one sided stand, for an area where expertise is cited as his wife served on a jury (ie not an expert herself), and doing so on a University of Saskatchewan page.

    • You’re uncomfortable? Imagine being Indigenous and having to exist in this country founded on overt racism and discrimination; the uncomfortable feeling never escapes our reality. Welcome to our world of uncomfortable and what WE experience on a daily basis in this province. You should applaud the Dean for his attempt to include Indigenous perspectives in this post. He is expressing his concerns for the safety of his minority and marginalized colleagues, students, and staff. He acknowledged the systemic racism that exists and so should you. If you refuse, then you are part of the problem, you are why so many of us feel uncomfortable on a daily basis. Taking a stance for the minority is what strong leaders do. Thank you Dean, for making this individual feel heard.

    • You’re uncomfortable? That’s laughable and incredibly insensitive. Your opinion does not belong here, not where the Dean of Medicine is attempting to console the hurt, grief, and fear that many Indigenous people are currently facing. You’re uncomfortable? Imagine what you’re feeling right now, but 100-fold. That is what Indigenous people feel everyday in this province. Welcome to OUR world of uncomfortable! Embrace it, learn from it, and grow! That’s what is expected of Indigenous people right? That is what is implied when people tell us to “get over it?” Stop being so fearful of change. I applaud the Dean for this statement, strong leaders take a stance for the minority, and if you’re uncomfortable, then you are part of the problem.

  11. Thank you for identifying a call to action in this disturbing news. Consider the statement “…my world would have changed on Friday night.” in light of Friday night actually being just one more in a long line of injustices, big and small. It may seem shocking to someone hearing it for the first time, but if you have lived it your whole life it is horrible but not a surprise, and not really much has changed.

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