A Deeper Understanding of Justice?
Responses of the criminal justice system to the life and death of Cindy Gladue have much to teach us.
Shock rippled across the country on March 18, 2015, when a Jury acquitted Bradley Barton in the death of Cindy Gladue. She died June 22, 2011 as a result of an injury caused by Barton, resulting in massive blood loss. He said it was an accident during a consensual encounter. He first agreed to pay $60, then refused when she began to bleed. Instead, he went to bed and left her to die.
The Crown Prosecution office filed an appeal of this verdict, questioning whether the instructions of the Trial Judge to the Jury were confusing and relied only on Barton’s account of what happened. Thousands of people rallied across Canada a few weeks later in outrage, demanding “Justice for Cindy.”
Two groups decided to add their leadership voices to this collective outrage. The IAAW (Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women) and LEAF (Legal Education and Action Fund) raised questions about the interpretation of consent and prejudicial references in the courtroom to Cindy Gladue as “native” and her sexual history. They were granted Intervenor status on March 8, 2016. I remember thinking, “that’s International Women’s Day. Hopefully, that’s a good sign.”
On September 6, 2016 the appeal was heard. First, people gathered outside the Law Courts as an Elder led a prayer of remembrance for Cindy Gladue, her mother, aunties, daughters, grandchildren, and other family members. Muriel Stanley-Venne, with the IAAW, said, ”this trial has implications for every woman in Canada.”
I joined many others in the courtroom that day. Chief Justice Catherine Fraser and her colleagues from The Alberta Court of Appeal posed many challenging questions to the Crown Prosecutor and the defense lawyer. While there were many narrow legal questions to explore, I was impressed that Justice Fraser would not let us forget that a forceful wound caused the death. She questioned if Cindy Gladue could truly have consented to such a violent act where she would be so terribly harmed. Justice Fraser cited cases of voluntary fist-fights resulting in serious injury or death where consent could not be upheld. “Is a prostitute not entitled to the same degree of protection as two guys fighting on the street?” she asked.
The Appeal Justices will announce their decision in early 2017. The life and death of Cindy Gladue and the responses of the criminal justice system have much to teach us all.
Kate Quinn is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).