TORONTO – There is nothing about being an indigenous woman or sex worker that is inherently violent – that was one of the main messages First Nations activists delivered on Apr. 2 to about 200 people gathered in front of Toronto’s Attorney General’s Office. It was part of the “No Justice, No Peace – Honouring Cindy Gladue” national day of action.
“Indigenous people and sex workers are over-policed and under-protected,” said Chanelle Gallant, co-director of STRUT, a Toronto based sex-worker-organizing project, and one of the event’s organizers. Gladue “was legally barred from working with any (expectation of) safety.”
On Mar. 18, Mississauga trucker Brad Barton was acquitted of a first-degree murder charge he faced for having left sex-worker Cindy Gladue, 36, to bleed to death in the bath-tub of an Edmonton hotel in June 2011. His lawyer argued that the 11-centimetre wound in Gladue’s vagina which led to her death was caused by rough consensual sex – despite the fact that her blood alcohol level was so high, she could not legally give consent.
But none of that mattered at the end of the month-long trial. The jury, which had no indigenous persons, took a day and a half to find Barton not guilty.
As protests in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver were underway, Alberta prosecutors announced they would be appealing the not guilty verdict. The Crown’s appeal notice includes mistakes it says the judge made during his charge to the jury.
While the national day of action was in Gladue’s honour, it was also meant as a call of solidarity with the women and men in the sex industry who are socially stigmatized and legally criminalized. This was in reference to Bill C-36, the new sex working law which would effectively criminalize paying or communicating for sex and advertising for sex services.
“It’s about the criminalization of the entire indigenous community – not just sex workers,” said one of the speakers in a broken voice.
“The stigma that exists about sex workers is not fair… when in reality, we’re just doing anything we can to survive.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed “grave concern” over the bill – The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act – in December, when it was first introduced, saying she was worried it would not maker sex workers safer. She then asked the attorney general to conduct a review on the law’s constitutionality, and on Apr. 1 she announced the review had found the law to be constitutional.
At the Toronto rally, Gallant said that the attorney general’s decision was “mystifying,” since more than 200 lawyers who looked at the law thought differently. She was referring to the July 2014 letter urging the federal government to reconsider the bill. In it, more than 200 legal experts asserted that the new laws would likely violate Charter rights of sex workers who will, in turn, face increased risk of violence.
Davyn Calfchild who was present at the Toronto event, said he would like to see the police treat indigenous victims with the same amount of respect as non-native victims.
“Regardless of whether she’s a sex worker, she still has rights. Sex workers are someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, aunt – they deserve the same respect,” he said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what if the murdered women were white? Why are our women placed at the bottom of the scale?”
The Toronto event ended with a series of healing songs which included drumming, throat singing and a dancer wearing traditional colours and an Eagle feather.