TORONTO — A man who pitched a trailer hitch at an Indigenous woman from a moving car in Thunder Bay, Ont., was given eight years in prison on Monday for what the judge described as a misogynist, thrill-seeking and callous attack.
In sentencing Brayden Bushby, 22, for manslaughter, the judge noted the profound grief inflicted on the family of Barbara Kentner, 34, as well as the anger among Indigenous people for whom such violence has become commonplace.
“”You knew you were aiming at women (and) by doing so, you have minimized women,” Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce said. “Your actions are an affront to all women.”
There was, however, no evidence the attack was racially motivated, Pierce said.
Kentner and her sister were walking on a residential city street late one night in January 2017. A drunk Bushby, who wanted to yell at “hookers,” lifted himself through the moving car window and used both hands to heave the heavy hitch as they passed the two hapless women.
“Yah, I got one,” Bushby, then 18, laughed to his buddies, court heard. They did not try to help the victim.
Struck in the abdomen, Kentner, whose bowel was ruptured, died six months later.
Pierce cited from several family and community victim-impact statements about the void left by Kentner’s death and the fear the attack caused.
“I acknowledge your anger and your grief,” Pierce said as she read her sentencing decision.
Now the father of a toddler, Bushby pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Pierce convicted him last year of manslaughter.
The prosecution had wanted a sentence of up to 12 years, citing aggravating factors such as his misogyny and callous indifference in committing the drive-by assault.
The defence had pressed for four years, arguing Bushby was a remorseful immature first offender acting out of character who should not be punished for the sins of others toward Indigenous people.
Although eggs, bricks, garbage and bottles are frequently thrown at Indigenous people in the northern Ontario city, Pierce said Bushby did not know Kentner, of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation, was Aboriginal. He attacked because she was female, treating the sisters as disposable, the judge said.
“He spotted women to target,” Pierce said. “He acted on his plan.”
Bushby did not face a hate-crime charge but Pierce called it important to understand the far-reaching effect of the deadly attack on the Indigenous community, who fear violence against their women has become “normalized.”
“Our people are simply not valued due to the social constructs of race and gender,” one group said in its victim-impact statement.
Bushby grew up in a financially stable family but had learning issues and never finished high school, court heard.
The defence argued he had matured, faced threats on social media, and rued his unprovoked action.
“I wish I could take it back and things were different,” Bushby said in a previous statement. “I will carry the guilt the rest of my life.”
Pierce rejected suggestions Bushby was too drunk to have known what he was doing. The charge had already been reduced from second-degree murder on account of his intoxication, she said.
“What you did, Mr. Bushby, was not brave, it was not manly, it was not impressive; it did not make our community a better place,” Pierce said. “You targeted a vulnerable woman on the street. You did it from the safety of a vehicle so you could just drive away.”
She did give him credit for pleading guilty and waiving a jury trial, which focused on whether the hitch caused Kentner’s death. The downgraded charge prompted an outcry that cases involving Indigenous victims aren’t treated seriously.
Derek Fox, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, called it encouraging that Pierce acknowledged the powerful victim impact statements.
“This brutal and senseless attack demonstrates the racism and violence that Indigenous peoples continue to face, not only in Thunder Bay but across the country,” Fox said.
The judge gave Bushby, who had been on bail for four years without incident, one month credit for time served. Pierce allowed him to hug his family goodbye before being led off to prison.
Bushby must provide a DNA sample, is barred from having weapons for 10 years after release, and can have no communications with the Kentner family during his sentence.