Cindy Gladue (left-centre) with her daughters. Image retrieved from The Globe and Mail.
In March 2015, a disturbing and unprecedented case unfolded in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. On June 22, 2011, a woman named Cindy Gladue was found deceased in a bathtub, after bleeding profusely from her vagina. During the court proceedings in R v Barton, her vagina was brought into the courtroom and admitted as an exhibit. The Crown’s theory was that “[Bradley] Barton used a sharp object to cut [Ms.] Gladue’s vaginal wall” and that even if he did not commit this act beyond a reasonable doubt, then he was still guilty of manslaughter. The defence argued that even though Barton admitted to causing tearing to Ms. Gladue’s vaginal wall and therefore caused her death, though it was “a non-culpable act of homicide”, one which “was an ‘accident’ from consensual sexual activity and should not result in criminal liability”. Bradley Barton was charged with first degree murder but the jury found him not guilty of this charge and also not even guilty of manslaughter.
In law school, we tend to focus our conversations on who we agree with: the Crown or the defence. We have a fascination with the law, we like to pick our favourite players in the courtroom, and we ingest the war stories our professors tell us. While we’re learning the basics in first year criminal law, we forget—or are told not to think too much about—that in these cases there are often victims. These victims are human beings; human beings who do not get a lawyer. The defence acts for the accused and the Crown acts for the state’s best interest.
Cindy Gladue did not get a lawyer. A narrative was created in the courtroom. It was a story about a “prostitute”, a “sex-worker”, who accepted sixty dollars for “everything”. It was a story about myths and stereotypes regarding prostitution, alcohol, and consent. Ms. Gladue did not have someone object on her behalf when her actual vagina was brought into a courtroom for twelve jurors to stare at and consider. Her family sat silently in the gallery, watching their loved one’s body be poked and prodded at. For those who are not familiar with criminal law, this is not common practice.
Lawyers use expert witnesses so that the court can rely on their testimony, instead of having to watch real-time demonstrations on a deceased person’s body. “Those close to her believe that had it been a white woman in the tub – sex worker or not – and a native man on trial, the accused would have been found guilty and the victim’s vagina would never have been displayed on a courtroom overhead projector”. Whether intentionally or not, this rare move by the Crown prosecution spoke volumes about the how Indigenous women are valued (or, not valued) in Canadian society. It sent a message that reverberates across Canada while at the same time leaders and policymakers ironically scratch their heads and wonder why there is such a gross amount of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
Though Cindy Gladue is no longer with us, her life is worthy of celebration and honour. In an interview with Globe and Mail, Cindy Gladue’s mother, Donna McLeod, shared the story of her daughter’s life, the dreams she had, and the family she is survived by. Ms. Gladue was a 36-year-old Métis woman who was born in Athabasca and raised in Edmonton. She has three daughters, Cheyanne Kelly, Brandy Sierra, and Brianne Nicole, as well as a recent granddaughter. She was also the sister to three siblings, Jeffrey, Kevin, and Marilyn. She was close with her two stepfathers and had reconnected with her biological father prior to her passing. Her family does not deny that she struggled with addictions or transience, but they also remember her dreams to go to university, her love of cooking, and her generosity. Her story and family remind us that “Cindy Gladue was more than a statistic, more than an addict and more than a piece of tissue… she’s still a human”.
We ask that you take a moment, not just today or whenever you can, but also before you engage in a law school debate about which side is right, to remember and honour the life of Cindy Gladue and the lives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
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 Ibid at para 3.
 Ibid at para 4.
 R v Barton, 2017 ABCA 216 at para 5.
 Ibid at para 13.
 Kathryn Blaze Carlson, “More than a tragic headline: Cindy Gladue dreamt of a happy life” Globe and Mail (15 May 2015), online: www.theglobeandmail.com.
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