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This article was published 2/4/2015 (1662 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Today, across Canada, people will remember Cindy Gladue, the 36-year-old woman killed in June 2011 in Edmonton. In Winnipeg, as well as Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Ottawa and other Canadian cities, people will gather and mourn both her despicable death and the atrocious way she was treated by the criminal justice system.
The man responsible for her death — 46-year-old Brad Barton — was found by a jury to be not guilty of first-degree murder and manslaughter. Barton's lawyer argued the wounds that eventually led to Gladue's death were caused by rough, but consensual, sex. The Crown argued that Barton used a weapon.
Gladue bled out from an 11-centimetre cut to her vagina. She was found covered in blood in a bathtub. Barton failed to call for medical attention when she started to bleed. Instead, he went to sleep and only when he woke up and found her dead, did he call 911.
During Barton's trial, Gladue's preserved vagina was taken into the courtroom, so that jurors could make up their minds if the wound was a cut or a tear. Barton's lawyer argued the injuries came after Barton thrust his fingers into her vagina. The acting chief medical examiner in Edmonton, Graeme Dowling, defended the decision to use the preserved vagina as evidence, saying it was necessary to educate the jury on the wound because autopsy pictures fell short. In a story published during the trial in the Edmonton Journal, Dowling "rolled up his sleeves, snapped on a pair of latex gloves and demonstrated his testimony with Gladue's tissues."
Karen Busby, a professor of law at the University of Manitoba, is unaware of any other case involving sexual violence where a body part was introduced into evidence in a Canadian court.
This is not the first time, however, a woman's intimate body parts have been put on display — to be catalogued, dissected, put in jars for study — in the pursuit of so-called truth.
Cindy Gladue joins other women whose dignity was violated by colonialism.
Take for example, Saartje Baartman — the so-called Hottentot Venus — whose body was placed on display as part of a 19th-century freak show in London. Baartman was a South African Khoisan taken from Cape Town to England in 1810 for exhibition. She was put on display as an example of a savage who was a close cousin to the ape. After she died, her body cast, skeleton and genitalia were held in jars at the Musée de L'Homme in Paris. She became the symbol of colonialism, as African-American scholar Carol Henderson writes, with British scientists collecting and displaying "the ethnic other" under the guise of science.
Make no mistake — this was no scientific study. It was full of value judgments of the inherent superiority of white men. Feminists, academics and government officials worked hard to have Baartman's remains returned to South Africa, and she was finally laid to rest in 2002 on National Women's Day, Aug. 9.
Now, the vagina of yet another ethnic other — an aboriginal woman — was put on display in a Canadian courtroom. The message — intentional or not — is that Gladue too is a savage, reduced to mere body parts for display while lawyers pursue truth in a determination of guilt or innocence.
For Henderson, the Gladue case "is certainly about power — the power to dehumanize and the power to reduce a human being to her sexual organs." Like others, Henderson is appalled "that we are speaking about such an egregious act in 2015."
In court, as in science, objectivity is pursued like the holy grail. For Henderson, though, the argument that using the vagina was necessary to discover the truth by objective means is troublesome. "Objectivity is a matter of perspective. In both cases, the contexts of history, power, and ownership are at play. With Baartman, her body was sold — bartered — because of greed and a sinister, misguided attempt to establish racial superiority based on a faulty and skewed scientific doctrine."
Gladue's body was also bought and sold — she was working in the sex trade at the time of her death — and in the name of law, she was objectified.
Henderson says Gladue was "held hostage to the objectivity of a law that does not recognize her humanity, her personhood, or her right to her own dignity. The fact Crown prosecutor Carole Godfrey said displaying Gladue's most intimate parts could be done in 'good taste, almost like a biology class', was startling and demonstrates the ways science and the law are alike — only certain people are recognized as human in either, and eliding one's personhood is accepted practice in pursuit of truth. Whose 'truth' is the million-dollar question."
The final verdict of not guilty is also troubling. According to Busby, in all other cases where so-called rough sex has resulted in death, at the very least a manslaughter conviction has been obtained. Alberta prosecutors have announced that they will proceed with an appeal in this case.
Today at noon at the Oodena Circle at The Forks, let's remember Cindy Gladue as more than just her body parts: as a mom of three daughters, as a woman and as a human being.
Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.
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Updated on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 12:01 PM CDT: Alberta prosecutors announce they will proceed with an appeal.