A breakdown of legal protections led to an Edmonton Indigenous woman being jailed for days – and shackled and transported in a van alongside the man accused of a violent kidnapping and sexual assault against her – according to a report on the 2015 case.
In the independent report ordered by the Alberta government, Winnipeg criminal defence lawyer Roberta Campbell said she didn't find that any justice official deliberately engaged in racist or discriminatory action toward the homeless woman who was the key witness for the case, "as that is not borne out by the court record" – but systemic bias played a role.
Ms. Campbell's report noted the case involving the 28-year-old now known by the pseudonym Angela Cardinal is one of several recent cases from Alberta involving the mistreatment of Indigenous victims. She also cited a judge allowing the preserved vaginal tissue of Cindy Gladue to be brought into an Edmonton courtroom in 2015 as evidence against her accused killer, and the 2014 Calgary rape trial where then-Federal Court judge Robin Camp asked an Indigenous woman why she did not keep her knees together.
The report came the same day that Alberta's Judicial Council said Provincial Court Justice Raymond Bodnarek was cleared of any misconduct in the case. The council said on Friday that Justice Bodnarek agreed to remand Ms. Cardinal, but didn't order her restrained and transported with the accused.
Ms. Cardinal complained about her shackles, but the Judicial Council said Justice Bodnarek's decision not to question the situation doesn't amount to judicial misconduct.
The council also said media reports do not fully reflect the difficult circumstances of the case, and "there is no evidence whatsoever that the gender or aboriginal status of the complainant influenced any of Justice Bodnarek's rulings in this case."
Ms. Cardinal died in an unrelated shooting on Dec. 12, 2015. Her real name cannot be published under a Criminal Code provision that protects the identity of sexual-assault victims, even after death.
Ms. Cardinal was remanded for five days during the preliminary inquiry for her attacker on the belief that she was a flight risk. She appeared distraught and belligerent at times, but the report said she never refused to answer questions and had never failed to appear. Ms. Campbell said Ms. Cardinal's detention was not contemplated by any section of the Criminal Code.
"I'm the victim and look at me. I'm in shackles. This is fantastic. This is a great … system," Ms. Cardinal said on June 8, 2015, according to court records.
Ms. Cardinal was assaulted on June, 16, 2014. The report noted she had no contact with victim support services such as counselling between June 18, 2014, and June, 3, 2015, "unacceptable for such a serious criminal case." During the trial, she was often housed in a remand centre cell near the accused. She was shackled throughout her testimony. Her time in custody was extended a half day longer while the accused underwent emergency dental work.
"The checks and balances that should have been operating on June 5th, 2015 did not protect Ms. Cardinal, in what can only be described as a complete breakdown of legal protections," said the report.
Lance Blanchard, Ms. Cardinal's attacker, was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, possession of a weapon and making a death threat. The Crown is in the process of seeking to have Mr. Blanchard locked up indefinitely as a dangerous offender.
Ms. Campbell's recommendations include calling a review into how commonly the Alberta Sheriffs Branch uses physical restraints on incarcerated witnesses, and that Alberta end the practice of requiring witnesses in court to stand.
In a news conference Friday, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley agreed the case reveals systemic problems in the justice system. She said she too was shocked by Ms. Cardinal's treatment, and has apologized to her mother.
Ms. Ganley said progress has already been made on several of the report's recommendations. "Every alternative will be exhausted by Crown prosecutors working with criminal justice partners and law enforcement before seeking the detention of a witness or victim of crime."
Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said the Alberta government's response to the case is "grossly inadequate."