After an all-white jury cleared a white farmer of murdering a young First Nations man, competing crowdfunding pages have underlined the persistent racial divide in Canada’s prairies.
Gerald Stanley, 66, was acquitted on Friday of murdering Colten Boushie, 22, from Saskatchewan’s Red Pheasant First Nation, in a verdict which provoked fresh criticism of the way Canada’s justice system handles cases involving indigenous people.
Since then, supporters from each side have taken to social media in order to raise money for the Stanley and Boushie families – with both pages surpassing $120,000 in donations.
Erica Violet Lee, who launched the campaign to support the Boushie family, said that the crowdfunding push was also intended to keep the memory of Colten Boushie alive.
“Almost every indigenous person knows each other [in the region] because we have a tight and loving community, ” says Lee. “I’ve seen stuff like this over and over again. But now, we know to document things. We know to talk about it –otherwise people are too willing to forget.”
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 people have donated money to help Stanley cover his legal fees.
Several previous pages supporting Stanley have been taken down for breaching GoFundMe user policies, but the crowdfunding service has declined to remove the latest version.
The company prohibits the use of its services for the legal defence of alleged crimes associated with “hate, violence, harassment, bullying or discrimination”.
The Stanley page has angered many in the indigenous community. “I was shocked by the amount that they managed to raise in one day – and the amount of malice involved in the donations themselves,” says Chelsea Vowel, a prominent Métis writer and lawyer.
Sam Olson, the administrator behind the Stanley page, did not respond to a request for comment. But some contributors echoed Stanley, who argued in court that he feared his farming equipment would be stolen.
“There was no respect for him or his property,” Mark Pashovitz, a farmer who donated $1,000, told the Canadian Press. “It could have been me.”
Demographic shifts in recent years have also increased tension in Canada’s western provinces: white farmers are declining in number as their children opt out of the family business and move to larger cities. Meanwhile, the indigenous population is growing quickly and in some areas, outnumbering the farmers.
Vowel said that some farmers live their whole life beside an indigenous reservation and never set foot inside. “Here we are living right beside people and there’s such a divide between us. It’s like the Marianas trench. It’s just so intensely deep,” she said.