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Angela Cardinal and Alberta’s Response to the MMIWG Inquiry

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Over the last two weeks, the ReconciliACTION team has been discussing the ongoing genocide that is Canada’s murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls crisis.[1]


Today, we discuss Alberta’s response to the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry (MMIWG Inquiry) in light of the inhumane and appalling treatment of Angela Cardinal by Alberta’s justice system.


As we touched on earlier this week, it is beyond unacceptable that Indigenous women and girls continue to feel Canada’s legal system is, at best, not adequately responding to their concerns and experiences of genocide or, at worst, making things worse. Like those discussed below, some actions (or omissions) by the justice system are likely to create distrust between Indigenous peoples and the justice system that can manifest by discouraging Indigenous women from coming forward to share stories of violence, victimization, and discrimination.


Angela Cardinal’s story is a shameful example of Alberta’s justice system failing to provide adequate support to a victim of violence against Indigenous women. Instead of helping Angela find justice, her experience likely left her much more traumatized and distrustful of the system.


In 2014, Angela Cardinal (a pseudonym) was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by Lance Blanchard while houseless and living on the street.[2] In 2015, Angela was subjected to inhumane, undoubtedly retraumatizing, and violent treatment by Alberta’s justice system.


In 2015, Angela Cardinal approached two police officers she knew and was told for the first time that her presence was needed to testify at the pre-trial inquiry for her alleged attacker, which was to commence in mere days.[3] On her first day of testimony, Angela was sometimes, in her own words, “panicking”.[4] The Crown prosecutor observed that Angela had problems focusing and staying awake.[5] After concerns were raised about her testimony, the Crown applied to have Angela taken into custody on the mistaken belief that she was a “flight risk” and was “incapable of participating properly.”[6] Despite never failing to answer a question [7] and always following the directions of police [8], she was detained for the next five days.


While testifying, Angela was imprisoned and shackled inside and outside the courtroom.[9] On at least two occasions, she was transported in the same van as Mr. Blanchard for the 15 kms between the Edmonton Remand Centre and the courthouse.[10] At the courthouse, Angela was held in a cell next to or near Mr. Blanchard during breaks and while he received emergency dental work.[11] Despite Angela’s promises to return as testify if released, as well as her protests at being treated like a criminal instead of a victim (including the incarceration, handcuffing, bad food and enduring faeces in the showers), she was held for five days.[12]


Photo Credit: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sex-assault-victim-jailed-judge-edmonton-1.4140533


At the main trial, Justice Macklin said Angela was owed an apology – which could not be delivered as she was shot and killed six months after the preliminary inquiry.[13]


After Angela’s story became known to then Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, the Minister launched the Campbell inquiry, initiated reviews of victim detention policies, and apologized to Angela’s mother.[14]


The ensuing Campbell inquiry found no justification for detaining Angela under s. 545(1)(b) of the Criminal Code, as she never refused to answer any questions put to her.[15]


Photo credit: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-remand-inmates-want-more-activities-1.4507175


The judge who authorized the detention of Angela was cleared of misconduct by Alberta’s Judicial Council. In their brief reasons, the Judicial Council said the judge was acting on counsel’s advice and that while the judge could have asked why Angela had to be shackled, the fact he didn’t did not amount to judicial misconduct.[16] Their reasons did not address the Campbell report’s conclusion that there was no basis for the detention.


It's horrific to think that no one stopped to ask if Angela’s imprisonment was okay.


Like many others, we are left wondering, had she not been Indigenous, would things have turned out the same way? Would more questions have been raised?


Among the many horrific ways Angela was treated, Justice Macklin noted that no one ever canvassed the possibility of having her monitored by a victim support worker or a police officer instead of being put in jail.[17]


The subsequent Campbell inquiry did recommend improvements to victim services. A progress report in 2018 noted the recommendations were either “in progress” or required “further research and consultation”, making a full accounting of progress difficult.[18]


Call to Action 5.6(ii) of the MMIWG Inquiry calls on provinces “to develop an enhanced, holistic, comprehensive approach for the provision of support to Indigenous victims of crime”, including funding for community-led organizations to deliver services and healing.[19]


In 2020, Alberta appointed the Joint Working Group to recommend how to implement the MMIWG Inquiry’s calls to action. This group also recommended changes to Alberta’s victim services regime. This includes transitioning to a community model of victim services and to retain an independent auditor to identify gaps in Indigenous-specific victim services.[20]


Unfortunately, the recently released 2022 progress report on the national action plan, which no doubt received input from Alberta, makes no mention of Alberta making or planning to make any improvements to victim services for Indigenous victims.[21]


None of this is okay, especially in the context of an ongoing genocide.

Until next time,

The ReconciliACTION YEG Team


[1] National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls “Reclaiming Power and Place: Executive Summary of the Final Report” (2019) at 1, online (pdf): National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls <www.mmiwg-ffada.ca> [https://perma.cc/4BTP-DF2L].

[2] R v Blanchard, 2016 ABQB 706 at paras 228, 305, 320 [R v Blanchard]. It should be noted that this case is still under appeal, see R v Blanchard, 2020 ABCA 374.

[3] Supra at para 229.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Michelle Bellefontaine, “Questions of race in sex assault victim’s jailing ‘keeps me up at night,’ Alberta justice minister says” (5 June 2017), online: CBC <www.cbc.ca> [https://perma.cc/5EAK-5BTD].

[6] R v Blanchard, supra note 2 at paras 229 - 230.

[7] Roberta Campbell, “Independent Report on the Incarceration of Angela Cardinal” (23 February 2018) at 9, online (pdf): Justice and Solicitor General <www.open.alberta.ca> [https://perma.cc/X5XG-DG39] [Campbell Report].

[8] R v Blanchard, supra note 2 at para 232.

[9] Ibid at paras 230 – 235.

[10] Janice Johnston, “’I’m the victim and I’m in shackles’: Edmonton woman jailed while testifying against her attacker” (5 June 2017), online: CBC <www.cbc.ca> [https://perma.cc/JG28-RHGV].

[11] R v Blanchard, supra note 2 at para 233.

[12] Ibid at paras 231-232.

[13] Ibid at para 347.

[14] Janice Johnston, “’Incredibly damning allegation’: Angela Cardinal case ignites feud between prosecutors, justice minister” (21 June 2017), online: CBC <www.cbc.ca> [https://perma.cc/PRS3-9APM].

[15] Campbell Report, supra note 7 at 16.

[16] Dean Bennett, “Alberta judge cleared in case where sexual assault victim was shackled, jailed in court” (23 February 2018), online: The Star <www.thestar.com> [https://perma.cc/P7A7-6MSU].

[17] R v Blanchard, supra note 2 at para 230.

[18] Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, Press Release, “Changes to further support victims of crime” (23 February 2018), online (pdf): Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry <www.mmiwg-ffada.ca> [https://perma.cc/PX9J-7S46].

[19] National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls “Calls for Justice” (2019) at 70, online (pdf): National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls <www.mmiwg-ffada.ca> [https://perma.cc/HB6V-NJTS].

[20] Joint Working Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls “113 Pathways to Justice: Recommendations of the Alberta Joint Working Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” (1 December 2021), online (pdf): Government of Alberta <https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/9fb69695-3796-4fe3-99b5-4b18916ca4cb/resource/cd21d777-66e9-4ec6-9295-b5c40d2ef6ec/download/ir-113-pathways-to-justice-recommendations-ajwg-on-mmiwg-2021.pdf>.

[21] National Action Plan “2022 Progress Report on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan” (23 May 2022) at 122, online (pdf): National Action Plan <https://mmiwg2splus.wpenginepowered.com> [https://perma.cc/PS5U-R44F].

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