Alberta family calls for changes to justice system following trial over Métis hunters’ deaths

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WATCH: An Alberta father and his son have been found guilty in the deaths of two Métis hunters – Jun 1, 2022

The family of two Métis men killed in 2020 is now calling for changes to the justice system after a father and son were found guilty in the deaths.

Jacob Sansom, 39, and Maurice Cardinal, 57 were found dead on a rural road near Glendon, Alta., on March 28, 2020.

Over two weeks, court heard the men had been hunting for moose in the area and had stopped near the Bilodeau property around 9 p.m., which the Bilodeau family found suspicious and so they chased the men.

Throughout the trial, defence lawyers questioned multiple witnesses about Sansom and Cardinal’s drinking habits and their level of intoxication that night.

Medical records showed Sansom was nearly three times the legal blood-alcohol limit at the time of his death and Cardinal was nearly two times the legal limit.

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Defence lawyers also tried to prove the men were aggressive. Two people from the Bilodeau family testified that Sansom threatened to skin them.

“They painted it up as if he (Jacob) was violent, (as if) he was an alcoholic,” Jacob Sansom’s sister Gina said.

“The same old stereotypes they paint Indigenous peoples as if his name, his family, who he was as a person does not exist.”

Jacob’s wife Sarah was called to testify during the trial. Defence lawyers asked her lengthy questions about how drunk her husband was that night.

Sarah said her words were twisted in the courtroom and in both traditional media and social media outside the courtroom.

“How are they talking about Jake and Maurice?” Sansom remembered feeling during the trial.

“It doesn’t seem like that’s who they’re talking about because that’s not who they were.”

Read more: ‘Bringing a knife to a gunfight’: Alberta lawyers make closing arguments in murder trial

The Bilodeau family assumed that Sansom and Cardinal were thieves, however, no evidence was ever presented to support that.

Roger Bilodeau and his teenage son chased the victims down a rural road, calling Roger’s older son on the way. Roger told his 33-year-old son Anthony to bring a gun.

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The chase ended in a fight and Anthony shooting and killing both Sansom and Cardinal in what he claimed was self-defence.

Both Sansom and Cardinal were found to be unarmed, though an unloaded shotgun was discovered in Sansom’s truck, feet away from Cardinal’s body.

Both Bilodeaus were charged with second-degree murder.

Anthony Bilodeau was found guilty of that charge in the murder of Cardinal, but guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter in the death of Sansom. Rogers was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter.

Gina believes Anthony’s defence lawyer’s line of questioning is the reason for the lighter charge.

“(Brian) Beresh was able to convince the jury that my brother was a violent drunk. A violent drunk. Even though my brother was none of those things,” she explained.

“It kind of blows your mind,” Sarah agreed.

“You’re like shaking your heads and we’re like, ‘How is this happening?’”

Read more: Alberta prosecutor points out lies while cross examining man accused of killing Métis hunters

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Outside of court following the verdict Tuesday, Beresh shared his disappointment in the verdict saying he was exploring an appeal. He also defended his line of questioning.

“Every day in our courtrooms, I ask witnesses, regardless of their background, about alcohol,” he told media.

“Because we know alcohol affects a whole bunch of issues that are important in a trial like perception, judgment, response. We ask all witnesses that.”

But Gina said she believes treating cases equally does not mean equality since Indigenous people are already facing hardships and stereotypes.

It’s for that reason that her family is pushing for more education within the criminal justice system.

“That’s the cultural safe space practice,” Gina explained. “Educating lawyers, educating the RCMP, educating the Crown, educating even our judges to look for these things.

“And the jury will need to be instructed in these things.”

Sarah said she worries about the effect the entire tragedy will have on her young children. Their friends have told them they watched a security video of Sansom and Cardinal being killed.

The video was released during the trial with some media outlets posting it — in its entirety — online.

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“My boy has said to me a few times, ‘When I’m older, am I going to die because I’m Indigenous?'” Sarah shared.

She said she hopes changes to the system will prevent other families and young children from facing the same fears.

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