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Serena Kentner was 16 when her mother, Barbara Kentner, died in 2017, six months after she was struck with trailer hitch thrown from a moving car.

David Jackson/The Globe and Mail

The death of her mother changed the course of Serena Jane Kentner’s young life.

Serena was just 16 years old and a high school student in Edmonton when her mom, Barbara Kentner, was hit in the stomach by a trailer hitch while walking with her sister on a cold January night in 2017 in Thunder Bay. The heavy metal hitch, which required two hands to lift, was deliberately thrown at her from a passing car with four people in it.

“When I see people with their mothers, it makes me mad. I wish she was here. I was able to tell her anything and everything. She was my best friend.” Serena said in her Feb. 17 impact statement, read by Crown attorney Andrew Sadler, after a Thunder Bay man had been found guilty of manslaughter in Barbara’s death.

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Before the attack, Barbara had been making plans to join Serena – her only child – in Edmonton. But their plans never came to pass, Serena said in an interview.

She remembers talking to her mom about plans for her high school graduation. “We had plans to go to pick up a dress and rent a limo,” Serena said. “She always rewarded me for good grades, and motivated me to succeed. My marks were in the 80s.”

Instead, Serena dropped out in Grade 10 to be with her ailing mother. Barbara died in July of 2017, six months after the attack. She was 34.

More than four years after throwing a trailer hitch after an afternoon of drinking, 22-year-old Brayden Bushby will find out his sentence on Monday. He was initially charged with second-degree murder but that was downgraded to manslaughter before the trial began.

Serena attended the verdict hearing via Zoom in December, 2020. “I felt good, also kind of angry that it took so long ... just to hear those simple words,” she said.

The defence for Mr. Bushby is seeking a four-year prison sentence, while the Crown argued for an eight- to 12-year sentence, saying in February that his actions were motivated by bias against women. The Crown said it did not have enough evidence to argue without a reasonable doubt that the attack stemmed from a bias against Indigenous people.

Multiple victim and community impact statements from family members and Indigenous groups contended the attack was fuelled by racism in a city where First Nations people have had items thrown at them for decades.

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Barbara was from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation near Dryden, Ont. She was one of four sisters, born to Roy Boucher and Mildred (Maude) Kentner. She also had four half-siblings. Barbara grew up in Thunder Bay; she loved bingo, watching the Food Network and Netflix.

Serena remembers her mom as a good friend and parent, who loved her family. They used drive around Thunder Bay visiting different parks, where Serena enjoyed playing.

“This one time, I was on the swing and I tried to do a backflip. I kind of messed up and hurt myself. And my mom, instead of kissing my boo boos, she was just laughing and says, ‘I wish I had a camera,’” Serena recalled with a laugh.

Although her mother had her fair share of problems, Serena says Barbara was working hard on getting sober and wanted a better life.

“She always tried to help people,” Serena said. “If someone was cold, she would give the jacket off her back to them.”

She hopes that her mother’s death and the conviction of Mr. Bushby brings awareness to the way Indigenous people have been treated in Thunder Bay. She herself had objects thrown at her when she was a young girl in the Northern Ontario city.

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“Cars would go around shooting paintballs at people,” Serena said. “I got hit with an egg before. It’s not nice and it hurts actually. And compared to a trailer hitch, I can’t even imagine how much that must have hurt.”

The guilty verdict against Mr. Bushby was one of the few “wins” the family has had since Barbara was attacked.

Serena was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant in October, 2020. She knows her mom would be by her side if she were still alive.

“She would be here for my sickness and things would be way smoother than they were,” Serena said. “She’d be here right now with me.”

Serena wants the court case to be over so she and Barbara’s sisters and family can finally start healing from the trauma and the public nature of her mother’s death.

Every time her mom’s story comes up on her news feed, Serena says she feels triggered. Once the sentencing is complete, she feels she can finally grieve.

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“It just is too much sometimes. And it brings back a lot, makes me think about it. And then tears start ... and I cry for a bit,” she said.

“I just miss my mom. I try to talk to her sometimes, but it’s not the same.”

Roxann Shapwaykeesic is a fellow from the Journalists for Human Rights’ Indigenous Reporters Program

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