In June, 2015, a woman was shackled and put into police custody in Edmonton, Alberta. She had committed no crimes, had complied with the police, and was a victim of sexual assault.
The woman, who was given the pseudonym “Angela Cardinal” due to a publication ban on her identity, was testifying against her assaulter, Lance Blanchard.
She was a 27-year-old indigenous woman who was incarcerated from June 5 to June 10, a precaution taken by the judicial system to ensure that she would be on hand to provide testimony.
According to an independent report reviewing the circumstances of Cardinal’s incarceration, Cardinal had stated that she could stay at her mother’s home during the days of the trial, and that she promised she would not leave until picked up by the police for testimony.
“At the conclusion of the Complainant’s testimony on Friday, June 5, 2015, [Cardinal] was remanded into custody on the mistaken belief that she was ‘a flight risk,'” the report states.
“I’m in shackles.”
Cardinal was then held in custody until June 10, though she appealed to the Court to allow her to spend the time between testimonies at her mother’s house.
“I’m the victim and look at me. I’m in shackles. This is fantastic. This is a great… system,” Cardinal had stated to the court on June 8, 2015 when it was decided that she would remain in custody.
Cardinal’s testimony ultimately led to the conviction of her assaulter on December 16, 2016, though Cardinal herself was fatally shot on December 12, 2015 in an unrelated incident.
It was found by the independent report that Cardinal’s detention should not have been sought, and that, as she never refused to answer the questions put before her, she did not meet the fundamental requirement for detention found in the Criminal Code of Canada.
The report and recommendations
Following Cardinal’s time spent in custody as a victim of a sexual assault, the government of Alberta tasked Winnipeg criminal defence lawyer Roberta Campbell to review the situation and “make recommendations to ensure that no victim of crime is treated in a similar fashion.”
Campbell wrote the independent report, which included 18 recommendations for change or review in the Alberta judicial and victim services systems.
On February 23, the Alberta government stated in a release that changes were being made following the recommendations laid out by Campbell.
“Angela’s story is a crucial reminder that we must do better, not only in her memory, but for all victims who come into contact with the justice system,” said Kathleen Ganley, minister of justice and solicitor general for the government of Alberta, in the release.
“When victims come forward to tell their story, we need to ensure they are not only heard, but that they are treated with courtesy, compassion and respect throughout every step towards justice. I want to thank Roberta Campbell for her recommendations, which are aimed at improving the system.”
The recommendations include eliminating the practice of having witnesses stand to testify in Alberta, that vulnerable witness policies be amended to take into account the services that witnesses may need, and that Victim Services become a right in the Victims of Crime Act.
The release from the government of Alberta states that each of these recommendations is either completed, in progress, or in need of further research and consultation. It also notes that a $50,000 bursary to assist indigenous women and organizations is being created in Cardinal’s memory.
Alberta government’s response “grossly inadequate”
David Khan, the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, released a statement on February 23 responding to the Alberta government’s, stating that their response was “grossly inadequate.”
“Angela Cardinal was more than a victim of sexual assault. Her rights were repeatedly violated by acts of racism, injustice, and plain stupidity,” he stated.
“Despite what the justice minister claims, the system alone did not victimize her. It was the result of a series of unconscionable and incomprehensible decisions made by individuals.”
Khan condems Ganley’s handling of the situation, calling for a letter from Ganley to the Canadian Judicial Council ordering an inquiry into the judge’s actions.
“[Ganley] refuses to find fault with any particular individual who had contact with Angela Cardinal, including with the judge who, it is now clear, wrongfully imprisoned her.”
He also mentioned the bursary being created, calling it an insult.
“Perhaps the final insult is the announcement of a paltry $50,000 bursary to assist women and Indigenous peoples. I suspect this amount would pale in comparison to what might be awarded in a successful civil suit,” he stated.
“Regardless, the memory of Angela Cardinal is worth much more than what the Minister of Justice and the Government of Alberta have offered.”