Canada vowed to protect its Indigenous women. But they are still being blamed for their own deaths

(CNN)February marked the culmination of a nearly decade-long legal saga that raised national questions about how Canada treats Indigenous women. Cindy Gladue, a 36-year-old Canadian Cree-Métis mother of three, bled to death in a hotel bathtub almost a decade ago.

Bradley Barton, a former long-distance truck driver from Ontario, was on February 19 convicted for manslaughter -- six years after he was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges at his original trial.
The jury in the six-week re-trial in Edmonton, Alberta, had heard witness testimony that Gladue suffered an 11-centimeter wound to her vaginal wall while engaging in sexual acts with Barton in a hotel in the city in June 2011, according to CBC reports.
    At trial, Barton testified he agreed to pay Gladue for sex and met her over two nights, and insisted it was consensual, according to the CBC. He said he did not realize she was injured, and was shocked when he found her dead the following morning.
      But prosecutors argued that Gladue may have been too drunk to provide consent, and drew attention to inconsistencies in Barton's testimony.
        Barton's lawyer Dino Bottos declined to comment on the verdict, but told CNN he is recommending an appeal for his client.
        Though the agonizing way in which Gladue died is a source of much grief for her friends, family and community, the case has become a rallying cry for activists, raising questions about race and discrimination in Canada.

          A questionable trial

          In 2015, a jury -- described as "visibly White" in CBC news reports -- acquitted Barton of first-degree murder and manslaughter charges, a verdict which triggered protests across the country and sparked a debate about how Canada's justice system treats Indigenous women.
          In 2017, prosecutors filed an appeal, arguing the trial judge had erred in some of his rulings and instructions to the jury. Canada's Supreme Court agreed and ordered Barton be retried for manslaughter, noting that the country's trial rules for dealing with sexual history weren't followed.
          Many saw the first trial as disrespectful to Gladue, says Julie Kaye, a national campaign specialist for Indigenous justice group Pima'tisowin e' mimtotaman told CNN.
          Kaye said Gladue "wasn't portrayed with human dignity, as a human being," during the 2015 legal proceedings, which she said saw prosecutors bring a specimen of her preserved pelvic tissue into the courtroom as evidence of the fatal wound she suffered.
          "They brought a portion of her body in as evidence and referred to a part of her body as a specimen -- it violates rights in terms of how we treat people's bodies after they're deceased, and it certainly violates Indigenous protocols around caring for loved ones after they have passed," Kaye said.
          According to the Globe and Mail, images of Gladue's vaginal tissue -- which was brought into courtroom but hidden behind a screen -- were projected on a screen for jurors to view. Presenting part of Gladue's body at trial, Kaye said, " was considered a very violent act."
          Protesters hold signs in support of Cindy Gladue outside Edmonton's city hall on April 2, 2015.
          Gladue was also referred to as a "Native" or "prostitute" throughout the trial, according to the Supreme Court's ruling in the case.
          "She wasn't all these labels, all these words that they said: She was a momma. People should have honored and respected her because she was a woman and she really loved her family," Gladue's cousin, Prairie Adaoui told CNN.
          In 2019, Canada's Supreme Court concluded that such language and "unrestricted reference to the victim's sexual history" had "devastatingly prejudicial effects" on the outcome of the case, and did not dissuade "prejudicial and stereotypical assumptions about Indigenous women working in the sex trade."
          "All the stereotypes and stigma associated with how she was called and the names used for her, that really allowed racism and sexism to enter into the proceedings," Kaye said.

          'Canadian genocide'

          For years, activists and Indigenous people in Canada have warned of a disproportionately high number of Indigenous women who have either gone missing or been killed across the country.
          "The severe violence that Cindy Gladue suffered needs to be situated within a context [of] ongoing settler-colonial relations marked by gendered violence," said Lise Gotell, professor of womens and gender studies at the University of Alberta.
          "As an outcome of colonization, cultural dislocation, and poverty, Indigenous women and girls continue to face extreme forms of marginalization, including rates of violence that are many times those of other women," Gotell said.
          Though they represent about 4% of all women in Canada, Indigenous women made up nearly 28% of homicides perpetrated against women in 2019, while police estimated in 2015 that some 10% of the country's missing women were Indigenous.
          A 2014 report from Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified 1,181 Indigenous women that had been killed or gone missing between 1980 and 2012.