By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
A small group gathered in ceremony for Cindy Gladue outside the courthouse in Edmonton on Jan. 13. Two days earlier, the retrial of the man accused of causing her death commenced.
Bradley Barton, a long-haul truck driver from Ontario, will now be tried for manslaughter in the 2011 death. Barton was acquitted in 2015 of first-degree murder and manslaughter. That decision was later overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal and the case went to the Supreme Court of Canada where a retrial was ordered on the lesser charge.
“When you know your daughter has died and this man was proven not guilty, I can’t imagine what (Gladue’s mother) must feel like,” said Bernadette Iahtail, who spoke at the ceremony, which she said was about showing unity.
“It’s about standing side-by-side and letting her know we’re there for her emotionally, spiritually and hoping that justice will be done.”
Iahtail, a long-time Indigenous advocate and founder of Creating Hope Society, said she woke up in the morning and knew she had to speak. She meditated on her words in her morning prayer.
“Justice for Cindy Gladue, who did not get, I believe, a proper court case and the fact that we all matter. All of us matter and the thing is we look at the court system, at the justice system where injustices continue happening to our Indigenous people, such as Cindy Gladue, Tina Fontaine, Colten Boushie,” said Iahtail.
Fontaine, 15, was reported missing and died in Winnipeg in August 2014. Her body was pulled from the Red River. Raymond Cormier, 56, was charged almost a year later. He was acquitted by a jury of second-degree murder in February 2018. Boushie, 22, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley in August 2016. Stanley was acquitted by a jury of second-degree murder in February 2018.
Gladue, a Metis woman and mother, bled to death in an Edmonton motel room after sexual activity, described as rough, that Barton has admitted taking part in but said was consensual. Dr. Erin Bader, an OB-GYN at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, testified that excessive force caused an 11-centimetre wound to Gladue’s vaginal wall, which led to the blood loss.
The ceremony for Gladue was planned by the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement. The turnout was purposely limited because of coronavirus pandemic measures.
Lisa Weber, president of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW), is legal counsel for Gladue’s mother, Donna McLeod.
“I’ve been going to the trial with the mother as her counsel … just to ensure she understands the process and to be there as support for her,” Weber said.
IAAW and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) were integral in pushing the Barton case all the way to the Supreme Court.
“IAAW and LEAF played an appropriate role as interveners at the Alberta Court of Appeal,” stated the Supreme Court in the overview of the issues.
“Their submissions addressed the issues raised by the Crown and their references to the factual record were appropriate and necessary in the context of a jury trial, particularly a trial in which discriminatory myths and stereotypes had become part of the evidentiary record.”
IAAW and LEAF were among a number of interveners “who took on the difficult, and often uncompensated, work of challenging discrimination in law. The work of Indigenous women, feminist legal interveners, and community advocates was fundamental (in) the Court’s recognition of this atrocity,” said LEAF in a May 2019 publication on its website.
The Supreme Court found that the court failed to protect Gladue, allowing the jury to hear about her sexual history and allowed racism and prejudice to enter the courtroom.
“As an additional safeguard going forward, in sexual assault cases where the complainant is an Indigenous woman or girl, trial judges would be well advised to provide an express instruction aimed at countering prejudice against Indigenous women and girls,” wrote Justice Michael Moldaver in the Surpreme Court’s decision.
“Paraphrasing, the Criminal Code requires that myths and stereotypes don’t make their way into the trial process… as the Supreme Court used the language around the judge as a gatekeeper to ensure that the law is upheld,” said Weber.
“The Supreme Court confirmed what the law is, and therefore, as I would expect like any citizen, we would expect that the court adhere to the law as it was then and is now and just trust that the process should work and that there is a proper trial.”
Weber would not comment on whether she has seen that change in tone so far during the trial.
Weber said she will continue to attend court as long as McLeod wants her to.
The trial is expected to last seven weeks.
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