The fatal attack on Barbara Kentner, who was struck by a trailer hitch heaved at her from a passing car, was motivated by a hatred of women and disregard for their lives, a Thunder Bay Superior Court judge said.
Justice Helen Pierce handed an eight-year sentence to Brayden Bushby, 22, on Monday, scolding him for minimizing women and treating Ms. Kentner and her sister, Melissa, as disposable.
Mr. Bushby was convicted of manslaughter last December after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for throwing a trailer hitch at the Kentner sisters in 2017.
Justice Pierce said the attack had a ripple effect into the Indigenous community, the city of Thunder Bay and the rest of the country.
“Your actions have signaled to Indigenous people across Canada that they cannot expect to be safe, and that their lives are not valued,” she said. “That’s what happened when you threw that trailer hitch.”
The Crown was seeking eight to 12 years in prison, while Mr. Bushby’s defence asked for four years, arguing the act wasn’t motivated by hate against Indigenous people.
Ms. Kentner’s family, including her daughter Serena and sisters Melissa and Connie, wiped away tears as they left the court room.
Ms. Kentner died six months after the attack that took place as she walked with Melissa to a relative’s house on a cold January night in 2017.
“I’m happy with it,” Melissa said of the eight-year sentence.
Mr. Bushby received one month credit for time served, bringing his total sentence to seven years and 11 months.
In her 43-page decision, Justice Pierce said while Mr. Bushby wasn’t charged with a hate crime and cannot be sentenced on that basis, it was important to understand the far-reaching effects of Ms. Kentner’s death.
“It is a common experience for Indigenous people of every age to be subjected to racial slurs, sworn or spat at, or targeted by objects thrown from cars, such as eggs, drinks, bottles, bricks, garbage, or a trailer hitch,” she said.
Justice Pierce said while there was no evidence Mr. Bushby knew the Kentner sisters were Indigenous on the night of Jan. 29, 2017, it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he was motivated by hate toward women.
Evidence from the preliminary hearing and trial heard Mr. Bushby was intoxicated after a day of ice fishing and drinking when he and three friends went driving around the city. Mr. Bushby told his friends he wanted to “yell at hookers.”
Ms. Kentner was a 34-year old Anishinaabe mother living in Thunder Bay, where she spent time with her family, including sisters and nephews.
That night, Melissa said, she saw a vehicle approach them with someone hanging out the window. Then she heard someone yell, “I got one!” as it drove off. Barbara was behind her on the ground and had been hit in the stomach with a trailer hitch she found nearby.
The blunt force trauma ruptured Ms. Kentner’s small intestine, requiring emergency surgery.
The forensic pathologist who performed her autopsy said Ms. Kentner died of bronchopneumonia and acute chronic peritonitis. She determined that both were consequences of a “traumatic rupture of the small intestine” caused by the blunt force injury.
Ms. Kentner also had end-stage liver disease, and while it was it was a significant contributing factor, it was not a direct cause of her death, the pathologist testified last November.
In her sentencing reasons, Justice Pierce referenced family impact statements, including from Serena, who has been sick with leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant last year, and misses her mother’s love and support.
Community impact statements from the Ontario Native Women’s Association, The Indigenous Bar Association and National Association of Friendship Centres, and Nokiiwin Tribal Council recount the disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women, and the fear faced by Indigenous people who often also feel unsafe reporting violence and racism to police.
Mr. Bushby’s defence lawyer said he didn’t know whether his client would appeal the sentence. However, lawyer Mark Halfyard argued on Monday afternoon for Mr. Bushby’s release pending his appeal of the manslaughter conviction.
That motion was dismissed by Justice Gladys Pardu.
Assistant Crown lawyer Andrew Sadler said the sentence and Justice Pierce’s reasons send a clear message that Mr. Bushby’s conduct was inappropriate, unacceptable and not an isolated incident when it comes to the dangers and risks of racism faced by Indigenous people in the city.
Debbie Kakagamic, a cousin of the Kentner sisters, agreed. “It sends a message to other people to think twice before they do something.”
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