Elder disappointed no consequences for woman accused of racist Facebook posts

FLIN FLON, Man. — A First Nations elder who led mediation circles after a social media post called for violence against Indigenous people says she is disappointed one of three women arrested has not faced consequences.

"We do not accept racism," said Irene Young.

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Young does restorative justice programming through Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a group that represents northern First Nations in the province. She expressed concern that one of the women appears to have skirted repercussions by refusing to participate in mediation and by the clock running out on the Crown to lay formal charges.

RCMP arrested the women for uttering threats and public incitement of hatred in relation to a Facebook post about a vandalized car in Flin Flon, Man., in July 2018. The post proposed a "shoot a Indian day" in retaliation. Responses suggested a "24-hour purge" and "Let's grab a Budweiser and some shot guns."

RCMP said at the time that the investigation had been forwarded to the Crown attorney's office for review and confirmation of charges.

One of the accused women was from Saskatchewan and court documents for Raycine Chaisson show she successfully completed an alternative measures program in that province. Two charges — for threats and breach of the peace — were withdrawn in June 2019.

The Manitoba Justice Department ended up referring the case to the Restorative Justice Centre and no formal charges were ever laid.

The two Manitoba women were assigned to Young, who facilitated mediation circles on Opaskwayak Cree Nation land close to Flin Flon.

The women — Destine Spiller and Samantha Markham — initially had to read out the Facebook posts in front of community members and were told they'd have to meet seven conditions based on Cree laws, values and traditions, including writing an apology and an essay on Indigenous issues.

Young said it was all about learning and creating an understanding between the accused and the community.

Spiller, embraced mediation, Young said. In a public apology in February, Spiller said she learned a very valuable lesson and "will remember it for the rest of my life."

She performed 80 hours of community service at a friendship centre and learned about the history of First Nations in Canada, including about residential schools and the '60s Scoop.

"Markham did not want to participate," Young said.

Markham didn't attend further mediation circles after the first one. She was referred back to the justice system. Prosecutors had two years from the time of the Facebook comments to formally lay criminal charges.

Markham confirmed in a Facebook message that she dropped out of the mediation circle and said it felt like a rude experience. She suggested there were attempts to refer the case back to the courts, but that was rejected. She added that she was contacted by a lawyer about another option through the courts, but there was no followup. She said she did not take part in further court diversion programs.

She said she shared the post with her "two cents" but was not part of the original comment. She declined to say more.

Manitoba Justice said in an email Tuesday — on the two-year anniversary of the posts — that the woman's matter has been concluded without formal charges. The department would not provide any additional information.

Young said what happened with the women is even more important now considering global demonstrations against racism and calls for changes to policing and the justice system.

She's worried about the message the woman's lack of participation will send to youth in Indigenous communities that have supported mediation circles to respond to racism.

"People are starting to be aware that (racism) is not appropriate behaviour."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

© Virden Empire-Advance

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