The justice system still fails to protect Indigenous women and girls

“Even though the SCC made some important findings in this case, their caution that the justice system has a lot more work to do applies equally to them. We need more than the “important step forward” they commended themselves for — we need a wholescale change. ” — Pam Palmater


“Her life mattered. She was valued. She was important. She was loved.”  R. v. Barton [2019] S.C.J. No. 33.

Cindy Gladue was an Indigenous woman originally from Alberta, where she grew up with her four siblings and extended family. She was also the mother to three daughters and her family described her as both a loving mother and caring auntie. She had close friends and always dreamed about being the first in her family to go to university. Cindy Gladue loved and was loved. She did not deserve her violent death in 2011 nor the indignity done to her body after.

She is now one of the many thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada — a growing crisis that represents grave human rights violations. The trial of the man who admittedly committed this act of violence against Cindy is an example of how defective Canada’s justice system is when it comes to Indigenous women victims and how negligent Canada has been in ensuring the basic human rights of Indigenous women and girls are met.

In this column, there will be no details about Cindy’s appearance, what she wore the night she was killed, where she was killed, whether she knew her killer, her level of education, her health status, or what she did for a living — because none of the facts is relevant to her death. Cindy is not to blame for her death. Cindy did not kill herself. Cindy did not engage in a dangerous knife fight or try to kill someone.

Regardless of which version of the story is accepted by the next trial judge — that she was killed by a male trucker who violently cut an 11-cm gash in her vagina, or that she died from a tear from his violent, but unarmed interaction with her — she still died as a result. According to the SCC quoting from evidence at trial, the trucker then tried to hide evidence, change the crime scene and lie about his involvement. His name doesn’t deserve to be said aloud, nor does he get to hide behind any of the racist or sexist excuses he used at trial to defend himself. None of the evidence referred to at trial or the SCC indicates that he should be believed. Cindy’s life story does not get to be narrated by the man who admits to committing this violence against her.

Sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada has been allowed to continue in plain sight by government officials, police officers, lawyers and judges who have treated Indigenous women and girls as though they are less worthy of life. In fact, were it not for the lengthy and persistent advocacy of Indigenous women and their allies, Canadians would still be unaware of the crisis. MORE

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