The acquittal of a man in the death of a native woman in Edmonton is provoking rallies and calls for an appeal in a case activists say raises questions about the way the criminal justice system treats indigenous women.
Bradley Barton, an Ontario trucker, was found not guilty of first-degree murder last week in the 2011 death of Cindy Gladue, a 36-year-old sex worker who bled to death at the Yellowhead Inn in Edmonton from an 11-centimetre wound on her vaginal wall. Ms. Gladue's preserved vagina was brought into court as evidence – the first time a portion of a body was presented at trial in Canada.
The Crown contended an intoxicated Ms. Gladue was unable to consent to sexual activity and that the wound was caused by a sharp object or by Mr. Barton's excessive thrusting with his hand. The defence argued Mr. Barton accidentally caused Ms. Gladue's death during consensual manual stimulation.
A letter-writing campaign on social media is urging the Crown to appeal. An online petition has garnered hundreds of signatures. And rallies have been organized for Edmonton, Ottawa, St. Paul, Alta., and Ohsweken, Ont.
Organizers say the trial might have gone differently had Ms. Gladue been white and the accused native. They say the case should be part of a national conversation on the treatment of indigenous women in a country where at least 1,181 female aboriginals were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012.
"A lot of the women that are murdered and missing, that's all people see them as – an Indian, or a prostitute – but these women are human," said Edmonton rally organizer Fawn Lamouche, a Métis woman who said she prayed with Ms. Gladue's tearful family outside the courthouse earlier this month. "This not-guilty verdict screams that we're not valued and we're not safe."
In a statement to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, the chief Crown prosecutor for Edmonton, Michelle Doyle, said the office has 30 days to file an appeal and that "all aspects of this case are being reviewed in order to assess the next steps." She called Ms. Gladue's death "shocking and appalling" and noted "many people are commenting on this case, seeking answers and expressing outrage."
Mr. Barton's lawyer, Dino Bottos, said the evidence was "clearly doubtful" that a sharp object caused the wound and said his client had no motive to hurt Ms. Gladue. Mr. Barton did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer.
"I can understand why [protesters] are upset – they feel it's yet another example of the system showing disregard for the lives and safety of aboriginal people," Mr. Bottos said. "I fully understand and empathize with that. But you cannot convict a person simply because you have sympathy for the victim."
Ms. Lamouche said she was also upset by the revelation on Thursday that a laptop found with Mr. Barton's belongings was not admitted as evidence. The laptop had a search history of what the judge described as pornography depicting torture. Mr. Bottos said the Crown and the defence agreed the computer should not be entered as evidence because it was unlawfully obtained.
He also said he argued against the Crown's request to use Ms. Gladue's tissue, which was concealed behind an opaque screen and shown to jurors – nine men and two women – on an overhead projector. However, the judge said the tissue was "real evidence on the key issue in the trial" and would provide more insight than photographs.
According to court documents, the doctor who conducted Ms. Gladue's autopsy has been a forensic pathologist for 29 years and has conducted about 6,000 autopsies. He told the court this was only the second case involving pelvic injuries in which he removed the region from the victim's body.
The Crown's expert later testified a sharp object caused the vaginal wound, while a defence expert told the court it was blunt-force trauma.
Jennifer Mt. Pleasant, a Six Nations woman who is co-organizing the Ohsweken rally set for Sunday, said the display of Ms. Gladue's tissue might be justifiable through a "Western lens," but it was an affront to indigenous culture. "When you die, you're supposed to be buried," she said. "It's a gross injustice and indignity to a human body."