If you have not heard about the recent verdict in the homicide of Cindy Gladue, you should have. Cindy Gladue was an Indigenous woman who was taken from her family, friends, and community under extremely tragic circumstances at the young age of 36. She was a mother of two. She lived in Edmonton, where she sometimes did sex work. In 2011, she bled to death from injuries sustained during what a jury called “consensual sex”, and the man accused of her murder was acquitted last week.
Cindy Gladue’s death is yet another devastating example of the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and sex workers in our country. There are many systemic reasons why this level of violence persists. Despite what Stephen Harper would have you believe, it is essential that Canada make this issue an urgent national priority.
In an opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail on March 25, 2015, Sarah Hunt — a Kwagiulth writer and scholar who has advocated for 15 years on issues of violence and justice in Indigenous communities — and Naomi Sayers — an Anishinaabe Kwe, Indigenous feminist, and sex work activist with experience working in the sex trade in various places in Canada —explain how society and our legal system are completely failing Indigenous women and sex workers. In this case of Cindy Gladue, this resulted in the ultimate form of victim blaming: the jury’s inability to see her assailant as criminally responsible in death. Sayers and Hunt write, “The criminalization of prostitution conspired to make the victim’s sex work experience the origin of the violence she faced instead of placing fault in the violent actions of the assailant.” Editorial clarification of trial details after the piece was published does not alter the force of the authors’ fundamental premise, that Cindy Gladue was denied justice because she was an Indigenous woman and a sex worker.
I felt it was important that Pivot also write a piece to honour Cindy Gladue’s life, and to ensure that her story is told. It is critical that, in these moments, we speak out and we demand justice.
It would be easy to remain silent as a result of the despair that we feel in circumstances like these, but it’s more meaningful to be moved by it. I hope I can use the horror and the anger that I feel about Cindy Gladue’s death as motivation in my work to ensure that sex workers enjoy the same rights as others in Canada — to live safe from violence and be treated equally under the law.
Photo by David P. Ball/rabble.ca