Calls for Colten Boushie’s death to be investigated as a hate crime 8 years after George Many Shots was killed
CBC News, Aug 20, 2016
Unlike the death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan, the 2008 killing of a First Nations man in Lethbridge, Alta., drew little public outcry or media attention — but it broke ground as only the second in the country to warrant stiffer sentencing as a “hate homicide.”
After 22-year-old Boushie was shot Aug. 9 in a farmyard near Biggar, Sask., a huge public outcry erupted over the killing and over the racist comments that emerged online. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations also accused the RCMP of fuelling racial tensions.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and other political leaders made pleas for the racist commentary to stop. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has also been vocal in its efforts to re-frame the conversation — while pushing the RCMP to investigate Boushie’s death as a racially motivated homicide.
That loud public debate is very different from the “deafening silence” that followed the killing of a First Nations man in Lethbridge by a stranger in an unprovoked, racially motivated attack in 2008, says senior appellate counsel Jolaine Antonio.
She played a key role in ensuring the death of George Many Shots was considered a hate homicide in sentencing — making it only the second case of its kind in Canada at the time.
“I deal with a lot of blood and gore and violence and brutality,” Calgary-based Antonio said of the Many Shots case.
“I have never had a case that turned my stomach in the same way that this one did.”
‘We do nothing but f**king put up with drunken Indians’
On June 23, 2008, in Lethbridge, Bradley Gray’s truck was broken into by a man and a woman of Aboriginal descent, prompting Gray to tell police he was very frustrated with “the Indians in the neighbourhood.”
“We do nothing but f**king put up with drunken Indians,” Gray said to police. He’d told his friend who came over the same day that he was going to “clean up the neighbourhood.”
Gray was also upset that “a native shelter had opened down the street,” according to the facts presented in court documents used to support the prosecution’s position on appeal.
‘The thought that Mr. Many Shots was killed for walking down a Canadian street while being the wrong race made me ill and it does to this day’– Jolaine Antonio, appellate counsel
Later that same day, George Many Shots and his friend Percy Panther Bone were walking down Gray’s residential street together.
The pair had had some drinks but were just chatting with each other when, out of nowhere, Gray — who was drinking beer on his porch with a friend — leapt up and crossed the road.
Gray shoved the two friends into an alley where he beat both of them with his bare hands and stocking feet. Many Shots died from his injuries.
A rare sentencing as a hate homicide
Originally found guilty of second-degree murder, Gray was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
He appealed and the higher court substituted a conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter. The case then went back before the original trial judge for sentencing.
‘The victim did nothing to provoke the attack, but from the offender’s viewpoint was simply interchangeable with any other member of the targeted group’– Jolaine Antonio, appellate counsel
Antonio handled the Crown’s case as it made its way through the appeal process. She and her team pushed hard, asking for the same sentence Gray faced on his second-degree murder conviction — the maximum sentence for a manslaughter conviction.
They were successful in securing a life sentence — an extremely rare feat for any conviction besides murder, where a life sentence is automatic.
One of the aggravating factors researched extensively by Antonio so that it could be argued at sentencing was that Many Shots’ killing was a hate crime.
Hate-motivated crimes deemed to harm entire communities
Two decades ago, Parliament revised the sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.
Among the changes, “evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin” could now be considered an aggravating factor. If this factor is present, prosecutors are able to argue for stiffer sentences.
The reason is that hate-motivated crimes can cause harm to entire communities, not just an individual victim.
“A person cannot modify his race,” wrote Antonio in her sentencing factum in 2012.
‘[Gray] was the victim of petty crime three times in less than two months and the perpetrators were consistently of Aboriginal descent. [He] was simply directing his remarks at those he believes are responsible’
– Defence lawyer Hersh Wolsh
“Being powerless to change the so-called reason for their victimization leaves victims feeling vulnerable to future attacks.
“The victim did nothing to provoke the attack, but from the offender’s viewpoint was simply interchangeable with any other member of the targeted group.”
Though Many Shots’ killing was clearly motivated by his hatred of Aboriginal people in his neighbourhood, Gray’s lawyer attempted to rationalize his client’s anger.
“[Gray] was the victim of petty crime three times in less than two months and the perpetrators were consistently of Aboriginal descent,” argued the lawyer, Hersh Wolsh.
“[He] was simply directing his remarks at those he believes are responsible…. His description of events, as unrefined as it might have been, cannot be said to reflect racial bias. Both victims were, in fact, Aboriginal.”
In the end, the panel of appeal judges found Gray killed Many Shots for one reason; the victim’s race.
B.C. hate homicide case provoked bigger outcry
Between 1996, when those Criminal Code changes were enacted, and 2013, when Antonio researched hate-motivated homicides in Canada, there had only been one other case of a hate homicide being recorded.
The first was the case of a Sikh janitor, Nirmal Singh Gill, who was beaten to death by a group of white supremacist skinheads in Surrey, B.C., in 1998.
The media coverage was extensive and the outcry from the community powerful.
By contrast, while Many Shots’ friends and family were quoted in local media reports as being outraged by the circumstances of his death and pleased with the life sentence that Gray ultimately received, his case received far less attention than the Surrey homicide and Boushie’skilling.
Antonio won’t comment on the Saskatchewan shooting because it’s still before the courts.
But she can’t help but remember Many Shots’ tragic death.
“The thought that Mr. Many Shots was killed for walking down a Canadian street while being the wrong race made me ill and it does to this day.”