Over one hundred people gathered Thursday morning outside the Provincial Court of BC to demand justice for Cindy Gladue and other missing and murdered Indigenous women. The demonstration was one of 26 held across Canada yesterday to express collective outrage over the acquittal of Bradley Barton, who walked free of both murder and manslaughter convictions on March 18th after being tried by an overwhelmingly white, male jury.
Gladue, a 36-year-old mother of three, was found dead in the bathtub of Barton’s motel room in June of 2011. After a month-long trial, Barton was found not guilty under the pretense that Gladue consented to alleged “rough sex” in a prostitution transaction that caused a fatal internal injury. Her blood alcohol level was four times the legal driving limit and, crown argued, the wound was more consistent with an incision than blunt force trauma. Searches of Barton’s computer, which was seized by the RCMP but not presented in court, revealed that he was a regular consumer of torture pornography. Crown prosecutors filed an appeal late Wednesday afternoon, asserting that Justice Robert Graesser erred in his understanding of motive, manslaughter, admissible evidence, and consent.
“It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a failure of the justice system,” says Cherry Smiley, co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry. “It was a john that killed her. We need to be looking at him. Really, we need to be talking about patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism and how those three things intersect when Bradley Barton, and men like him, think it’s okay to buy sex.”
Protestors trickled in to the courtyard at 10:30am. First Nations leaders in red and black clothing assembled on the cement staircase holding handcrafted posterboard signs. Audrey Siegl of the Musqueam Nation began with a song of welcome, respect, and honour. She was followed by Lorelei Williams who lost a cousin to Pickton in 1996 and has an aunt who remains missing. Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs admonished the state for failing to address poverty which pushes women and children into prostitution. Vancouver Rape Relief’s Summer Rain Bentham and Daisy Kler stressed the importance of holding pimps and johns accountable for the exploitation of women and girls. Marlene George decried Minister Bernard Valcourt’s unsupported claim that Aboriginal women are simply succumbing to the violence of Aboriginal men. Anita McPhee, President of the Tahltan Nation’s Central Council, committed to fight for a national inquiry at the United Nations level. I recognized that the incredulity I felt that an injustice like this could take place in Canada was my newest manifestation of white privilege. In reality, injustices like this have been happening over and over again for the past 500 years.
Carol Martin, long-time Downtown Eastside advocate and co-organizer of the February 14 Women’s Memorial March, expressed that while she was deeply disappointed by Barton’s acquittal, the event was unsurprising. The case is a high profile example of a truth that is all too familiar to Indigenous women, the feminist community, and those who support women in frontline anti-violence work; no branch of the Canadian Government — including the judiciary — has ever had the safety and dignity of Indigenous women “high on its radar.”
Jess Martin is a feminist, student, and aspiring writer. She lives in Vancouver, B.C. Follow her @jlynnmartin.