When Justice Helen Pierce found Brayden Bushby guilty of manslaughter in the death of Barbara Kentner on Monday, it felt as if Indigenous women across Turtle Island could exhale.
We no longer had to expect the worst from a court system that was never designed to serve any Indigenous person, a system we have learned to expect great pain from.
This time, Justice Pierce said the word we needed to hear: guilty.
But there’s no pleasure in the brief respite. The charge should have been second-degree murder, as it was originally, before it was reduced to manslaughter for reasons I will never understand. Mr. Bushby had already pleaded guilty to the charge of aggravated assault, but was fighting the manslaughter charge.
Melissa Kentner, who was with her sister Barbara on the night of Jan. 29, 2017, when Mr. Bushby flung a sharp metal trailer hitch at them out of a passing car, walked out of the Thunder Bay courthouse after Justice Pierce read her decision and took a few moments to collect her thoughts and breathe. She took comfort in the welcoming arms of supporters, and then spoke about what happens next.
“I’m happy,” Ms. Kentner said. Then, she paused, and asked: “But why is he able to walk the streets?”
Mr. Bushby is now remanded on bail until a sentencing hearing on Feb. 9. When a reporter asked whether this was a trial about race – even though the Thunder Bay Police Service did not lay a hate crime charge against Mr. Bushby – Ms. Kentner said that it was: “Look at the colour of his skin. He gets to go have holidays with his family. Serena doesn’t.”
Serena is Barbara Kentner’s only daughter. She’s now without a mother, because Mr. Bushby decided to attack them with a metal trailer hitch he found after a day of ice-fishing and drinking with his friends. The court heard that Mr. Bushby told his buddies in the car that night that he wanted to go “yell at sex workers.”
For the record, the sisters are not sex workers. They are First Nations women from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation. All they were doing that frigid night was walking down the street.
And “this was not a snowball,” said Justice Pierce of the heavy hitch that takes two hands to hold.
But the court’s decision remains imperfect. And there were other people in the car, too, when the then-18-year-old Mr. Bushby threw the sharp hitch at them that night; none of them faced any charges.
His defence team tried to argue that underlying medical conditions, such as Ms. Kentner’s existing liver problems, were the cause of her death. Justice Pierce had none of that. She heard Dr. Toby Rose’s medical testimony, and understood that while Ms. Kentner was already in fragile health, the hitch caused irreparable harm that accelerated her passing.
Barbara lost 60 pounds from the time the trailer hitch hit her on Jan. 29, 2017, to the day she died on July 4, 2017. Her injuries were leaking and painful, a constant burden from the time they were inflicted.
And so she joined the Indigenous women who have had to pay for the callous disregard of their existences with their lives – one of the thousands of sisters, aunties, mothers, cousins and friends we have lost to violence that amounts to what Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called a genocide.
There are trials that arise from North America’s deep colonial history – trials of race where justice never seems to ever come, because the system itself is born from systems steeped in the policies of extermination and assimilation. The institutions that now govern us all in Canada grew from the theft of our lands and the attempt to break our bodies and our spirits.
Mr. Bushby’s is one such trial. So was that of Gerald Stanley, the white Saskatchewan farmer who shot Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from Red Pheasant Cree Nation, in the back of the head in August, 2016; Mr. Stanley was acquitted in 2018.
If you call yourself a Canadian and you have not taken a moment today to think about Barbara Kentner, you have no idea what is really happening in this country. If you do not see how the roots of colonialism still grip the justice system and mindsets of those who work and serve in it, then you are blind to Canada’s true and continuing history, and you are part of the problem.
“I’m too angry to say anything more,” said Melissa Kentner as she stepped away from the media, tired and worn from this long ordeal.
As we all are. And now we wait to hear what the sentence will be.
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