EDMONTON — Advocates are hoping an Alberta court ruling will help change the way courts deal with Indigenous women and sexual offences.
The province’s Appeal Court has ordered a new trial for Bradley Barton, an Ontario trucker who was acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of Cindy Gladue.
Gladue, 36, was a sex-trade worker whose body was found in a bathtub in an Edmonton motel room in 2011. The defence had argued Gladue consented to rough sex before she bled to death from a vaginal wound.
The Appeal Court cited errors in the case, including how the trial judge charged the jury about Barton’s conduct, Gladue’s background and on the law of sexual assault relating to consent.
Muriel Stanley Venne, with the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, said the ruling has cast some light on “dark days and old ways of thinking” in the criminal justice system.
“The most important aspect is they (Appeal Court) treated Cindy Gladue as a human being — not as a prostitute and not as an Indigenous woman but as a human being who deserved like everyone else the dignity and respect from the court,” she said Tuesday.
Lise Gotell, with the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, said the Appeal Court was highly critical of the way judges charge juries in cases involving sexual offences. This could have a lasting impact on sexual assault trials, she said.
“Judges are using model jury instructions that do not accurately reflect the current state of law on the legal meaning of consent,” she said.
The group was also heartened that the Appeal Court took exception to how Gladue was characterized during the trial.
“She was repeatedly described as ‘a prostitute,’ as ‘a native girl’,” Gotell said.
“Had the rape shield provisions been properly applied in the case, neither her status as a sex worker or her consent to sexual activity on the first night would have been admitted.”
The two organizations have taken exception to the Alberta Crown’s decision to use Gladue’s preserved vagina as evidence during the trial. Gotell said Gladue’s family has never been able to properly bury her because they don’t have all of her remains.
Stanley Venne said the violation of her body would never have happened if she wasn’t Indigenous.
“The Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to violate a dead body. The Crown should be liable as anyone else to the violation that they did to the body.”
Alberta’s Justice Department said it welcomed the ruling, noting the Appeal Court accepted its argument that the trial judge failed to properly explain to the jury that it could have considered whether Barton was guilty of a lesser charge.
Barton is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 18 to set a date for a new trial.
The Canadian Press