An investigation into the abuse of power that lead to a sexual assault victim being jailed for no damn reason isn't enough in my opinion. The GOA and the Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley need to take more appropriate action. I'm not sure how judges and crown prosecutors are fired but this needs to happen. Or can we expect to see more victims in jail in Alberta because of a non-existent flight risk?
Paula Simons: Apology too little, too late, for sexual assault victim sent to remand centre
Published on: June 5, 2017 | Last Updated: June 5, 2017 8:04 PM MDT
Minister Ganley addresses treatment of a victim of crime
She was kidnapped. Sexually assaulted. Choked. Stabbed.
Then she was brutalized by the justice system meant to protect her.
The story — first reported by the CBC this week — of what happened to a 28-year-old Cree woman sounds like a horror movie.
On the most flimsy of pretexts, the provincial court judge at a preliminary hearing for her attacker ordered the mother of four to be held at the Edmonton Remand Centre for almost a week to ensure she’d testify.
She was forced to travel in the prison van between the remand centre and court house with her attacker. She had to sit handcuffed and shackled for hours on end, waiting to testify.
The judge who ordered this treatment was Ray Bodnarek, Alberta’s former deputy minister of justice. Before his appointment to the bench by the Redford government in 2013, he was the department’s highest-ranking bureaucrat.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley called the series of events “almost incomprehensible.”
“We can’t even imagine what she went through in the van, trapped with the man who attacked her,” Ganley told a hastily called news conference Monday.
Ganley apologized on behalf of Alberta Justice, and announced she had appointed criminal lawyer Roberta Campbell, president of the Law Society of Manitoba, to conduct an independent investigation. Ganley also struck a special expert committee to examine ways to prevent such situations in the future.
It’s heartening to see Ganley publicly condemn what happened, to pledge decisive action. But however adroitly she’s managing the political fallout, let’s not look away from just how horribly this case went off the rails.
In June 2014, the young woman — whose name is subject to a publication ban — was brutally, bloodily assaulted by Lance David Blanchard. Blanchard was six-foot-five and had just been released from prison eight months before, after serving a 34-year sentence for sexual assault, manslaughter and other violent offences.
The victim managed to call 911, and saved her own life.
Lance David Blanchard, a violent sex offender with a long criminal record, is six-foot-five and weighs 220 pounds.EDMONTON POLICE SERVICE / EDMONTON POLICE SERVICE
When the preliminary hearing began a year later, no one told her about it. Two days before she was supposed to testify, she actually approached two police officers whom she knew. They told her she had to appear in court. Since she was still homeless, they found a hotel room for her, then moved her to her mother’s house. The next morning, they picked her up and gave her a ride to court. She testified. But she was agitated, unfocused. It was Friday afternoon, and Crown prosecutor Patricia Innes was concerned she might not return Monday. Rather than assign a support worker to help her or police officer to escort her, the court remanded her for the weekend. There she stayed for five nights as the preliminary hearing dragged on.
When the criminal case finally went to trial before Justice Eric Macklin of the Court of Queen’s Bench, Macklin was horrified. He called the woman an intelligent and eloquent witness. Her testimony, he said, was “clear, coherent, lucid and responsive.”
Macklin said she had never been a flight risk.
“She was never missing and had never failed to appear,” he wrote. “She told the court the true facts concerning her whereabouts and asked that she simply be taken to her mother’s home. When told of concerns that she would not come back to court, she responded that she promised to do so. Nevertheless, the court again remanded the complainant into custody.”
There was no legal or logical basis to hold the woman in remand. Even if she had been a flight risk, what possible justification was there to keep her shackled and handcuffed in court for days on end? Or to force her, repeatedly, into close quarters with the man charged with her attempted murder? Such behaviour was cruel and callous. Sure, the Crown wanted to win its case. But this surreal maltreatment of the traumatized victim actually put the integrity of the trial at risk.
Sexual assault victims are often nervous about testifying. But let’s be honest. If this victim hadn’t been indigenous, and hadn’t been poor, this never would have happened. If a middle-class, non-aboriginal woman expressed hesitations about testifying against her rapist, she wouldn’t end up behind bars. Meanwhile, how many marginalized women will now think twice about pressing charges for fear of being re-victimized by the courts?
Macklin found Blanchard guilty of kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and related offences. The Crown wants him deemed a dangerous offender. Blanchard’s lawyer, on the other hand, wants whatever his sentence will be reduced — because, he says, Blanchard has endured poor living conditions while in remand.
But Blanchard’s victim isn’t here to appreciate that bleak irony.
The Remand Centre: an appropriate place for a sexual assault victim, waiting to testify? Or a draconian overreaction by the court and the Crown? IAN KUCERAK / POSTMEDIA
She didn’t hear Ganley’s apologies. She never saw Blanchard’s conviction. She was killed in late 2015, an innocent, accidental victim, struck by a stray bullet — in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In his judgment, Macklin noted the woman’s sense of humour. He mentioned a poem she’d written, which she’d recited at the preliminary hearing.
“Unfortunately, her life circumstances did not allow society to see or experience her intelligence and artistic qualities,” he wrote.
How tragic that a different judge, the former deputy minister of justice, saw not a poet or a victim, but someone who deserved shackles and a cage.