Justice for Cindy Gladue


UPDATE: On April 2, Crown prosecutors in Alberta filed an appeal that seeks to order a new trial regarding Cindy Gladue’s death.

I used to write for alternative newspapers so I every so often a press release lands in my inbox. Too often I don’t have an outlet to write about the issue I’m reading about or I don’t get the message in time.

An email I received on Tuesday sent chills down my spine. What I’m about to write is graphic and disturbing.

Until that email I hadn’t heard about Cindy Gladue. If you missed her story in the news, Cindy Gladue was 36 years old, a mom to two daughters (the press release mentioned two daughters. Several media outlets say she had three children) and an indigenous woman who worked in the sex industry.

In June, 2011 her life ended when she bled to death in the bathtub of an Edmonton hotel while the man who injured her slept. During a first-degree murder trial that followed her death,  Graeme Dowling, Alberta’s acting chief medical examiner, testified that an 11-cm cut in Gladue’s vagina caused her death. Dowling said the wound was caused by a sharp object.

Last week a jury of nine men and two women (all non-native) found Ontario resident Bradley Barton, a truck driver, not guilty of first-degree murder nor of manslaughter even though Barton told the court he had injured Gladue, saying the wound was caused by his fingers accidentally during rough sex.

In a Globe and Mail opinion piece, indigenous rights advocates Sarah Hunt and Naomi Sayers say because Gladue’s blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit she was not able to give consent.

Even more shocking, during the trial Gladue’s preserved pelvis was brought into court as evidence because Dowling said autopsy photos of the wound to her vagina were dark and didn’t “portray the nature of the injury as accurately as the physical specimen itself.”

It sickens me that Gladue’s preserved vagina was presented in court. I had no idea medical examiners would ever do that. I’ve read plenty of Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell. Reichs is a forensic anthropologist in real life and her fictional character Temperance Brennan shares the same occupation. Based on what Reichs writes in her novels, during autopsies samples of a victim’s bone may be analyzed to identify the type of weapon that left marks on the bone. From what I understand in such cases bone samples aren’t brought to court but an expert, for instance, a forensic anthropologist in cases that involve bones, tells the jury about their examination of the bone and why they believe such-and-such weapon was responsible. I don’t know what the policy is for cases involving a victim’s flesh, but surely the same standard is applied? (After writing this I learned it was most likely the first time in Canadian legal history that preserved body tissue was brought into a courtroom). In Gladue’s case I don’t understand why photos couldn’t do the job. Why would they need to cut out part of her body and present it in court? Would they do this to a white woman? Is it because she was indigenous and the circumstances of her death – she was in that hotel room because Barton paid her to have sex – that her body deserved such undignified treatment?

If you want to know more about the case and what led the jury to acquit Barton, you’ll find plenty of information online.

What deserves public attention and outrage is the injustice of Gladue’s aggressor not even being convicted of manslaughter and the indignity her body suffered in death.

An online petition asks Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis to launch an appeal. Please sign it.

Today, April 2, 2015, indigenous and sex work groups across Canada are rallying to honour Gladue “after her killer was acquitted of any wrongdoing.”

I have no information about a Montreal protest. But if you’re in Toronto, No More Silence and STRUT Toronto are holding a rally from 12-12:30 p.m. outside of the Ministry of the Attorney General at 720 Bay St.

If you can be there, please show solidarity for a woman who died horribly, whose body parts are still being held as evidence, and who, like many other missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, deserves justice.