“These are real people”, Six Nations Elected Council responds to Khill acquittal

Frustration and emotions run high in the indigenous community today after a Hamilton jury acquitted Peter Khill of second degree murder in the shooting death of Jonathan Styres.

Six Nations Elected Council released a statement today calling for an appeal to the verdict saying they “joins other Indigenous voices expressing shock and disappointment at the “not guilty” verdict by the jury in the trial of Peter Khill”.

Jonathan Styres was a resident of Six Nations and a father of two Six Nations children at the time of his death.“How can Indigenous people have faith in the relationship with Canada when the justice system fails to hold anyone accountable for the taking of a life?” said Six Nations Elected Chief Ava Hill.

SNEC released a statement saying, “Reconciliation demands that the unique vulnerability of Indigenous peoples to violent victimization, including the existence of stereotypes in Canadian society generally, be meaningfully addressed. Six Nations Elected Council once again calls on Canada to overhaul the criminal justice system that over-represents Indigenous people as victims and accused persons and chronically under-achieves justice.”

“These are real people,” said Elected Chief Ava Hill. “Jonathan Styres, Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine and Cindy Galdue – they were all born with mothers and fathers, raised as children with hopes and dreams and were loved as adults with families and responsibilities. It is unfathomable that their tragic deaths are unanswered by the Canadian justice system.

Peter Khill, 28, admitted he killed Jon Styres on the morning of Feb. 4, 2016, but pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he fired in self-defence when he thought Styres was pointing a gun at him.

Styres did not have a gun at the time of the shooting, the trial heard. The mother of Styres’ children broke into loud sobs and had to leave the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict.

“I know this has been a very emotional trial, a very tough trial for everybody,” Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero said after Khill’s acquittal. “I appreciate that everyone has kept their cool and behaved in a manner appropriate to courtroom proceedings.”

Styres family told reporters they would not comment or answer questions about the trial or its outcome.

The trial heard that Khill and Benko awoke to the sound of banging outside their rural home early on a February morning in 2016. Khill looked out the window and saw Styres inside his truck, the jury heard. Khill loaded his shotgun, left the home through the back door and went to confront Styres, court heard.

At trial Khill testified that he had yelled at Styres to put his hands up and fired as Styres began to turn towards him. Styres was facing sideways with his hands at waist height when he was shot, Crown attorney Steve O’Brien told the jury.
Only after Khill fired two shots at Styres did Benko call 911.

The Crown argued at trial that Styres did not pose a reasonable threat to Khill and Benko while they were inside their locked home, and that Khill should have called 911 and waited for police rather than run out of the house with a loaded shotgun.

Manishen told the jury Khill was simply following his training as a military reservist to “neutralize” a threat to his life.

“Soldiers react proactively, that’s how they are trained,” Manishen said in his closing address. “Mr. Khill said that’s why he acted the way he acted. To take control of the situation.”

After the verdict, Manishen told reporters he thought Khill’s military service was a central point of the trial, and was significant to determining whether Khill had acted reasonably to defend himself under the circumstances.

Glithero told the jury that self-defence can be justified by the reasonable belief that a person is being threatened, whether or not that threat actually exists.

The jury was also given the option of finding Khill guilty of manslaughter if they decided he had not acted in self-defence but had also not meant to kill or inflict potentially deadly harm on Styres. In the end, jurors found Khill not guilty of both second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The trial garnered attention for its similarities to a recent Saskatchewan case, in which white farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted in February in the death of young Indigenous man Colten Boushie.

Manishen told the jury that race played no part in this case, as Khill could not possibly have known Styres was Indigenous given how dark it was at the time of the shooting and how quickly events unfolded.

He also noted after the verdict that potential jurors had been asked if they could be impartial given Khill and Styres’ races _ a measure he said put him at ease about the issue of bias.

“(It) was, in my view, an excellent approach to be able to dispel any concern about race playing any part in the case, recognizing it had nothing to do with the facts,” he said. (with Canadian Press files)

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