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The Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments this week in the case of Bradley Barton, accused of killing Cindy Gladue. File photo.

Justin Brake

Canada’s criminal justice system is under intense scrutiny this week over its treatment of Indigenous people.

On Thursday the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments in an appeal of an Alberta court’s decision last year to order a new trial for Bradley Barton.

Gladue, a 36-year-old Cree woman, was found dead in an Edmonton motel room in June 2011.

She bled to death from an 11-centimetre wound in her vagina.

In 2015 Barton, an Ontario trucker who admitted to causing the wound and Gladue’s death—accidentally, he argued—was acquitted of first degree murder and manslaughter.

The decision prompted vigils and protests across Canada.

In a unanimous ruling last year Alberta’s Court of Appeal ordered a new trial based in part on the belief that the trial judge’s instructions to the jury were “inadequate to counter the stigma and potential bias and prejudice that arose from the repeated references to Gladue as a ‘prostitute’, ‘Native girl’ and ‘Native woman’” throughout the trial.

Those references, the three judges wrote in their decision, “implicitly invited the jury to bring to the fact-finding process discriminatory beliefs or biases about the sexual availability of Indigenous women and especially those who engage in sexual activity for payment.”

The 11-person jury consisted of nine men and two women, none of them Indigenous.

Cindy Gladue’s “dehumanizing treatment” indicative of justice system’s regard for Indigenous people

Women’s and Indigenous rights advocates say Canada’s criminal justice system is failing Indigenous people.

“The dehumanizing treatment of Cindy Gladue in this case raises critical issues, including of the law of consent, the mistreatment treatment of Indigenous women by the criminal justice system, and the pervasive problem of violence against women,” reads a joint press release this week from the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), who are among 16 intervenors in the case.

“The trial of Bradley Barton is another, horrific example of a system designed to dehumanize and punish Indigenous women,” Julie Kaye, Research Advisor for IAAW, said in the statement.
During the 2015 trial part of Gladue’s preserved corpse was brought into the courtroom as evidence, a rare move that critics say represents the Canadian justice system’s regard for Indigenous women and their bodies.“The introduction of Ms. Gladue’s actual vaginal tissue as evidence is the pinnacle of two things: how prostituted women are reduced to a mere sum of their body parts, and that our life’s total never figures into whether or not we choose prostitution,” Trisha Baptie of Formerly Exploited Voices Now Educating (FEVNE) said at a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday.FEVNE is part of the Women’s Equality and Liberty Coalition (WELC), which is also intervening in the case.“I am positive Ms. Gladue never gave her consent to live in poverty, to suffer the effects of colonization, to experience life as she understood it. If she had no ability to consent to the life she experienced, that moulded her, why do we think she consented to being a prostituted woman?” Cindy Gladue was a 36-year-old Cree mother, daughter and sister. She died in 2011 from a wound inflicted on her by Bradley Barton, who was later found not guilty of first degree murder or manslaughter. File photo. This week the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women announced it too will intervene in the case.“The death of Ms. Cindy Gladue and acquittal of Mr. Bradley Barton is emblematic of how Indigenous women are seen as less than […]

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