Alberta launches investigation after sexual assault victim jailed during hearing

Click to play video: 'Minister Ganley addresses ‘failure in justice system’' Minister Ganley addresses ‘failure in justice system’
WATCH ABOVE: In a statement, Alberta's justice minister said the treatment of a sexual assault victim who was remanded was "unacceptable." Kathleen Ganley has launched an investigation into the case – Jun 5, 2017

Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley is demanding answers after it was revealed a sex assault victim was shackled and jailed during her case and was even forced to ride in a prison van with her attacker.

Ganley announced Monday she has launched two investigations into the case.

“The facts of this case are disturbing and tragic, and when you add in the treatment of the victim in the system, they are almost incomprehensible,” Ganley said. “What is clear is that both policies and people failed in this case.”

Ganley said she was “shocked” and described this case as “the ugly side of the justice system.”

“She was the victim of a horrific crime and when she came to the justice system, we failed to treat her with the respect and dignity she deserved.”

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Ganley said she wants to know if the fact that the woman was indigenous and living on the street played a role in how she was treated by the justice system.

“One of the questions that keeps me up at night is whether it would have been the case that if this woman was Caucasian and housed and not addicted, whether this would have happened to her.”

The 28-year-old woman, who was from central Alberta, was forced to spend five nights in the Edmonton Remand Centre during her testimony at a 2015 preliminary hearing for Lance Blanchard, the man who attacked her.

Watch below: Alberta’s justice minister has launched an investigation after a victim of sexual assault was jailed while she was testifying against her attacker. Tom Vernon reports.

Click to play video: 'Province shocked by treatment of sexual assault victim' Province shocked by treatment of sexual assault victim
Province shocked by treatment of sexual assault victim – Jun 5, 2017

Court heard the woman was homeless and sleeping in an apartment stairwell when she was attacked and dragged into Blanchard’s apartment. She suffered stab wounds to her temple and hand as she attempted to fight off the sexual assault.

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Court documents indicate the woman had trouble focusing and answering questions, so the hearing judge agreed with a Crown prosecutor’s request to have her spend the weekend in custody.

The complainant was forced to testify about her June 2014 assault in Edmonton while she was shackled and handcuffed and, on at least two occasions, she had to travel in the same prisoner van as her attacker.

A different judge — who found Blanchard guilty of aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and aggravated sexual assault — noted the woman’s treatment in his decision last December.

“She was clearly distraught and, using her word, ‘panicking.’ She was somewhat belligerent,” Justice Eric Macklin wrote. “Concerns were expressed as to her behaviour and whether she would voluntarily reattend on the following Monday to continue her testimony.”

Macklin expressed regret that the young woman was kept in custody.

“She was remanded into custody on the mistaken belief that she was ‘a flight risk’ and that she was simply incapable of participating properly in the court proceedings,” he wrote.

“Her treatment by the justice system in this respect was appalling. She is owed an apology.”

That apology never came as she was killed in an unrelated shooting six months after her testimony.

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Macklin noted the woman, whose name is protected under a publication ban, was never missing and had never failed to appear in court.

“Nevertheless … she remained in shackles,” Macklin wrote. “(She) emphasized again that she was the victim and not surprisingly, said the following: ‘I’m the victim and look at me. I’m in shackles. This is fantastic. This is a great … system.'”

Ganley has hired Manitoba criminal lawyer Roberta Campbell to investigate what happened. A separate committee made up of representatives from police, the Crown prosecutors office, court services and victim services will make recommendations to fix gaps in policy.

Chief Judge Terry Matchett with the Provincial Court of Alberta said in a statement he has no authority to review decisions made by individual judges during the course of trials or preliminary inquiries.

“It is only in a situation where it is alleged that a judge has misbehaved or misconducted himself or herself in some way that the chief judge or the judicial counsel can review the matter and, in an appropriate case, impose sanctions,” the statement read.

“I have received no complaint of any nature arising from this case. However, as chief judge I will be conducting a detailed examination of the all of the circumstances of this case to determine what if any lessons we as a court can learn.”

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Watch below: ‘There were probably failures too numerous to list’: Minister Kathleen Ganley

Click to play video: '‘There were probably failures too numerous to list’: Ganley' ‘There were probably failures too numerous to list’: Ganley
‘There were probably failures too numerous to list’: Ganley – Jun 5, 2017

Ganley said she has already apologized to the victim’s mother.

“I’m sorry,” Ganley said. “We can and we must do better. Those are the words I delivered to her mother when I met with her last week… All survivors deserve better.”

On Tuesday, the victim’s mother said the apology didn’t help her at all.

“No, it wouldn’t even matter. She’s already gone… You can’t do anything because she’s not here anymore.”

“I can’t sleep at night… [I keep picturing] her walking through the sliding door, yelling: ‘Hey mom!'” she said through tears.
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Ganley also noted that any prosecutor who decides to use a section of the Criminal Code that allows for witnesses to be held in custody for refusing to testify must have the decision approved by the chief Crown prosecutor.

“I don’t think it’s too strong to say that this is a horrific situation,” said Kim Stanton, legal director for LEAF, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. “I hope that it is unusual because it’s beyond appalling.”

Stanton said the woman’s treatment highlights how the justice system continues to fail victims of sexual assault.

“It’s beyond belief,” she said. “It’s just egregious that she had to spend the weekend there and subsequent nights. Surely somebody in that courtroom could have come up with an alternative solution.”

Watch below: Kathleen Ganley believes, in this “unacceptable” treatment of a sexual assault victim, “there is plenty of blame to go around.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister talks about sexual assault case review' Alberta justice minister talks about sexual assault case review
Alberta justice minister talks about sexual assault case review – Jun 5, 2017

— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary and Emily Mertz, Global News

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