An Ontario trucker has been sentenced to 12½ years for killing Cindy Gladue in an Edmonton hotel room a decade ago, in a case that inflamed complaints about how the justice system treats Indigenous women and sex workers.
Justice Stephen Hillier said Bradley Barton, 53, who was convicted of manslaughter, had an “intolerable level of blameworthiness” for Ms. Gladue’s death in June of 2011. Mr. Barton’s trial heard that he left Ms. Gladue, a 36-year-old Métis and Cree woman, to bleed to death in a bathtub at the Yellowhead Inn without calling for help and then lied to cover up what happened.
“No words can capture the tragedy and sorrow, particularly for the young family left suddenly without a mother,” Justice Hillier said Tuesday as he read out his decision in an Edmonton courtroom.
The sentencing followed Mr. Barton’s second trial after the Crown appealed an earlier acquittal. The Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial in large part because of how the judge overseeing that case handled the issue of sexual consent and Canada’s rape-shield law. The judge who oversaw that trial was also criticized for not doing enough to ensure that the jury wasn’t influenced by myths and stereotypes about women, Indigenous people and sex workers.
The acquittal in 2015 prompted protests and was cited by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry’s final report said Mr. Barton’s first trial, during which the jury heard repeated references to Ms. Gladue as a “native prostitute,” was ”emblematic of how Indigenous women are seen as less believable and ‘less worthy’ victims than non-Indigenous women.”
Justice Hillier said in his sentencing decision Tuesday that Mr. Barton was in a position of power over Ms. Gladue, who was especially vulnerable as an Indigenous woman who exchanged sex for money.
Mr. Barton received nearly a year of credit for time he has already spent in custody. The Crown asked for 18 to 20 years, while Mr. Barton’s lawyer suggested a range of five to nine.
Outside of court, Ms. Gladue’s mother, Donna McLeod, said she was grateful the legal case was over.
“I only wished Barton would’ve gotten medical help for her – maybe she would’ve been here today,” Ms. McLeod said.
During a sentencing hearing in June, Ms. McLeod told the court about Ms. Gladue’s three children struggling to come to grips with why someone would kill their mother. One of them, Ms. Gladue’s daughter Cheyanne Gladue, said outside court on Tuesday that justice has been served but the heartache for the family lives on.
Lisa Weber, the president of Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women and a lawyer who represented Ms. McLeod during the trial, said Ms. Gladue’s death and the subsequent legal case has laid bare the justice system’s inability protect Indigenous women.
She said the sentence was inadequate considering the circumstances of the crime and Mr. Barton’s apparent lack of remorse. She said Mr. Barton could be eligible for parole in less than four years.
“That’s really sad and that’s hard to tolerate,” she said.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples issued a statement that described the sentence as incomprehensible and “shockingly low.”
Mr. Barton’s second trial heard that he met Ms. Gladue at the Yellowhead Inn while in Edmonton for his work as a long-haul trucker. He paid her for sex and then the pair met again the following evening, when they drank in the hotel lounge and then in Mr. Barton’s room. The court heard Ms. Gladue had four times the legal limit of alcohol in her system and that she bled to death from a severe wound.
The Crown’s theory was that Mr. Barton caused Ms. Gladue’s injuries and then dumped her in the hotel bathtub. Prosecutors also said Mr. Barton then tried to cover up what happened by lying to police, his coworkers and his wife.
Mr. Barton testified that he had a consensual sexual encounter with Ms. Gladue, and while he knew she was bleeding, he did not know she was in medical distress. He said he then lied about what happened because he was in shock and worried about his family and others learning that he paid for sex.
Justice Hillier rejected much of Mr. Barton’s testimony and described him as an unreliable witness who offered distortions designed to rationalize his behaviour.
The judge said Mr. Barton knowingly put Ms. Gladue at risk with a violent sexual act, the dangers of which he had previously researched online, without her consent. And when it was clear that Ms. Gladue was bleeding and seriously injured, Mr. Barton showed a “callous failure” to call 911, which may have saved her life, the judge said.
Mr. Barton addressed his sentencing hearing last month, apologizing to Ms. Gladue and her family and saying he never meant to hurt her.
His lawyer, Dino Bottos, said he planned to appeal the verdict and is also considering appealing the sentence, which he argued was excessive when compared with similar cases. He had argued in court that the intense public debate about the case should have been a mitigating factor in Mr. Barton’s sentence.
“The Gladue-Barton story is a sad, tragic story, which I think will better inform the Canadian public in terms of the inequities and indignities visited upon Indigenous women in Canada,” he said in an interview.
“At the same time, because of that national attention and because of the national outrage, it was going to be tough to get a fair trial the second time around.”
Mr. Bottos had asked for a mistrial after allegations surfaced about bias among the jurors but Justice Hillier rejected the application in early June.
With files from The Canadian Press
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.