The shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man, and the subsequent acquittal by an all-white jury has drawn international attention to anti-Indigenous racism in the prairie province of Saskatchewan and raised disturbing questions into bias in Canadian policing and the justice system. The key issue in the Boushie case – two bullets and a misfire – is eerily parallel to a shooting death 27 years earlier. One in which the presiding judge in the Boushie case was instrumental – only then as an RCMP lawyer.
January 28, 1991. Cree trapper Leo LeChance walks into a pawnshop in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. From inside the shop, three rifle shots are fired from an M-56 gas-operated assault rifle. Leo LeChance is struck by the third bullet as he stands in the door frame. He dies shortly thereafter on a Prince Albert street. Four months later a deal was struck, a manslaughter plea with a 4-year term. The shooter claimed he pulled the trigger on the first two rounds as test shots, aiming at the ground. The third deadly round, he claimed was an accidental firing, believing the chamber empty. The shooter, Carney Nerland, told police, “If I am convicted of killing the Indian, they should give me a medal and you should pin it on me.” No evidence of racial bias was entered.
“If I am convicted of killing the Indian, they should give me a medal and you should pin it on me.” – Carney Nerland
August 9, 2016. Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, Saskatchewan lies unconscious at the wheel of a pickup truck in the driveway of Gerald Stanley’s farm. Stanley fires two shots from a Tokarev pistol before approaching the pickup, pulling the trigger on the third shot, point-blank, into the back of Colten Boushie’s head. The shot kills Boushie instantly. Last week, an all-white jury delivered a not guilty verdict, choosing to believe as “reasonable” the wildly improbable testimony of the shooter absent any expert corroboration, that the last bullet was a misfire or a “hang-fire”. No evidence of racial bias was investigated or entered into evidence.
Twenty-seven years before hearing the Boushie trial in the Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench, Chief Justice Martel Popescul was an RCMP lawyer, part of the team negotiating Nerland’s plea bargain and subsequent attempt to truncate a judicial inquiry held into the shooting. The RCMP attempted to block publication of the name of a confidential informant. The CI was later revealed to be the shooter himself, Carney Nerland, information revealed thanks to the efforts of the Prince Albert Tribal Council and the LeChance family and supporters.
Carney Nerland was no mere follower of the Aryan Nations. He was an established leader among North America’s most notorious and deadly white supremacists engaged in trying to create the Northwest Imperative – an all-white nation-state encompassing the Pacific Northwest. With Nerland appointed to the newly created position of leader of the Saskatchewan Aryan Nations in 1989, it extended the land bridge across Montana and North Dakota. At ground zero,the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, Nerland shared company with various leaders of Ku Klux Klans, racist skinheads, so-called Christian Patriots, and members of the Order – a terrorist organization that accumulated over 3 million dollars through counterfeiting, bank and armoured car robberies that left a trail of bombings and murder in their wake between 1983 and 1984. By December 1984, the Order was all but finished, going down in an armed conflagration that saw its leader, Robert Mathews, dead on Whidbey Island, Washington key members arrested. That year, 1984, Carney Nerland joined the KKK and took out membership in the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations rising swiftly up its leadership ranks.
Nerland was released into a witness protection program in 1993 – the controversy eclipsed shortly thereafter by the 1994 publication in the Toronto Sun of Bill Dunphy’s explosive expose “Spy Unmasked: CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) Informant ‘Founding Father’ of White Supremacist Group.” The story unleashed a national scandal known as the Bristow Affair. Grant Bristow, a top leader in the white supremacist Heritage Front closely associated with RaHoWa (short for Racial Holy War) and other neo-Nazi networks was a CSIS operative – not a mere informant but a staffer. To this day, there is no evidence of any successful arrest, prosecution or conviction based on Bristow’s work for the Canadian spy agency during the Heritage Front’s reign of racist mayhem.
In an additional twist to the story, there were three men with Carney Nerland the night that Leo LeChance was killed. One, Roy McNight, left minutes before the shooting. McKnight was former paratrooper with the Canadian Airborne Regiment – the notorious regiment disbanded after the 1993 torture and murder in Somalia of Shidan Arone, a 16-year-old accused of stealing food from United Nations Peacekeepers. A subsequent national inquiry, suddenly truncated before all evidence was brought forward including the actual events that took place in Somalia. It revealed a unit riddled with organized white supremacists and deemed uncommandable. The unit was disbanded in disgrace in 1995.
The not guilty verdict in the shooting death of Colten Boushie has given rise to nationwide protests and cast new light on age-old disparities and failures in delivering justice for Indigenous peoples. Simultaneously it has invigorated white nationalists looking to stoke the fires of anti-Indigenous racism. A GoFundMe fundraising campaign for the farmer who shot Colten Boushie is nearing their $200,000 goal. The fundraising site allows for anonymous and false names. One donation is published in the name of “Zyklon Giftgas” – reference to the gas used during the Holocaust by Nazis in extermination camps. Saskatchewan, the birthplace of the universal social programs that have come to define Canada on the world stage, may yet be the epicentre for a new wave of racism atop that which was never eradicated.
* For an excellent summary of the Carney Nerland affair see the 1994 work of Ron Bourgeault of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism.