Family angry over treatment of sex assault victim

EDMONTON — The family of an indigenous sex assault victim who was jailed and shackled while testifying against her attacker is angry about how she was treated by Alberta’s justice system and wants the man to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Lance Blanchard was found guilty last year of aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping and unlawful confinement for the 2014 attack.

Relatives of the 28-year-old homeless woman came face to face with Blanchard on Tuesday during a court hearing over his treatment at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

“It hurts. I want him in jail. I don’t want him out here. I don’t want anybody else to get … raped and beat up,” the woman’s tearful mother said outside court.

“I wanted to know why he did that to my baby. Why her? I don’t mean for anybody else for that to happen to them. Why my baby?”

The Crown is seeking to have Blanchard declared a dangerous offender. Blanchard’s lawyer is trying to block the move.

At a 2015 preliminary hearing for Blanchard, a judge agreed with the Crown that the victim should spend five nights in the remand centre during her testimony. The Crown was concerned about her behaviour and whether she would return to court otherwise.

The woman, who was originally from Maskwacis, Alta. and can’t be identified, was shackled and handcuffed during her testimony. On at least two occasions, she had to ride in the same prisoner van as her attacker.

On Monday, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley called the case ”disturbing and tragic” while announcing two investigations into how the victim was treated. Ganley has apologized to the family.

The mother said the minister’s words gave her no solace.

“It didn’t matter. She is already gone,” the mother said. “She didn’t do anything wrong. She was a happy-go-lucky girl.”

The woman was killed in an unrelated shooting last year.

Family members said they are also angry with the Crown for not allowing the victim’s name to be published. The mother said her daughter was smart and strong, and people should know who she was.

The victim’s sister-in-law said the woman’s relatives still can’t believe how she was treated.

“This shouldn’t have happened — how she was handcuffed, shackled. There were other options. They didn’t try to find the family, saying can she stay here while the trial was going on. They didn’t try to take her to a woman’s shelter.

“They failed her big time.”

The Alberta Judicial Council said Tuesday it had not received any complaints about how provincial court Judge Raymond Bodnarek conducted Blanchard’s 2015 preliminary hearing.

Provincial court Chief Judge Terry Matchett said he has no authority to review decisions made by judges during trials or preliminary hearings, including decisions about keeping a witness in custody, which is allowed under the Criminal Code.

But Matchett said he will look at what happened to determined if anything can be learned.

“I will be conducting a detailed examination of all of the circumstances of this case,” he said in an email.

A different judge who found Blanchard guilty in December expressed regret that the woman was held in custody.

“She was remanded into custody on the mistaken belief that she was ‘a flight risk’ and that she was simply incapable of participating properly in the court proceedings,” Justice Eric Macklin wrote in his ruling released earlier this year.

“Her treatment by the justice system in this respect was appalling.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday the woman’s treatment “was absolutely unacceptable.”

“The system failed her on a number of different fronts.”

John Cotter, The Canadian Press


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