Her Name Was Cindy: The Post-Mortem Objectification of an Aboriginal Mother of Three

A story of injustice and posthumous disrespect in a Canadian courtroom

Aboriginal Canadian women have been going missing and being found murdered since the early seventies. I research these cases frequently and they are very interesting to me. However, lately, I find myself feeling sad and jaded when reading about them. I get so upset that this is happening in my own country that I turn my emotions off and treat it as research only. It deeply affects me since my nieces, nephews, and sister-in-law are Aboriginal people.

However, when I came across Cindy Gladue’s story, it jolted me out of that place and actually brought me to tears.

Cindy Ivy Gladue was a Cree woman born on July 23, 1974, in Athabasca, Alberta. She was the eldest of four siblings. Cindy had a rough upbringing although she was raised by a loving mother. Her stepfather, who also was loving towards Cindy, had anger and addiction issues. When she was a young girl, her family moved to Edmonton, Alberta for a fresh start.

Cindy was very cautious about her personal safety and was fiercely protective of her friends and family. When Cindy was out with her friends, she was known to watch out for them while they navigated the dark streets of Edmonton at night. Cindy worried about her and her friends being mistaken for sex-workers and being abducted.¹ Edmonton, like many cities in Western Canada, has a long list of missing women cases, many of them involving women in the sex trade.

Cindy had always dreamed of going to university and having a family. She wanted a conventional, happy life. Not unlike most young women, Cindy wanted to love and be loved and have that “white picket fence” life.

Cindy began to socialize with a “bad crowd” while she was in high school. Unfortunately, Cindy developed an addiction to alcohol and began prostituting to fund her habit. Cindy had three daughters. Her mother stepped in to help raise her children when her addiction got out of control.²

On the night of June 21, 2011, Cindy met with a client for the second time, this monster’s name was Bradley Barton. Cindy Gladue’s body was found in an Edmonton hotel room the next morning. The beautiful and kind mother of three had bled to death alone in a bathtub. Cindy’s cause of death was an 11-centimeter wound in her vaginal wall. She was 36-years-old.

Two days later, Barton was arrested. This was a shock to Cindy’s grieving mother, Donna Mcleod. She was originally told by police that Cindy had passed on from natural causes.²

The case went to court where Cindy was referred to as a “native” and “prostitute” over 50 times while her grieving mother sat in the courtroom. A photograph of Cindy’s dead body was accidentally shown on screen and her mother had to witness this. However, the biggest indignity of all was yet to come. The crown presented Cindy’s preserved pelvic tissue as evidence of the fatal wound that killed her.

Bradley Barton claimed that this wound was caused by consensual sex. He said that he had paid Cindy money in exchange for sex and that he used to hand to manually stimulate her and killed her by “accident”.²

On March 18, 2011, a jury of nine white men and two white women acquitted Barton on the charge of first-degree murder and also neglected to charge him with manslaughter. They came to the conclusion that Cindy’s death was the result of a reckless but consensual sex act gone wrong.

Image by Amber Bracken for The Globe and Mail

Following the trial, protests were held all over Canada. People were so angry. How could this happen? Cindy was killed and regardless of consensual sex being the cause or her occupation being sex work, Bradley Barton killed her.

In my opinion, the Canadian Justice System killed her once more when they treated Cindy’s memory with such disgusting negligence during her trial. This was not justice, it was a circus.

However, I have some good news. In response to the public outcry, the supreme court ruled that Cindy’s case deserved a new trial. The supreme court felt that Cindy’s case was not given the attention it deserved.

“ All seven judges agreed, however, that the judge who presided over the murder trial made a crucial error in failing to hold a “rape-shield” hearing, in the jury’s absence, to determine whether sexual activity between Mr. Barton and Ms. Gladue a night earlier could be introduced as evidence that she consented to similar activity on the night that led to her death. (The Alberta prosecutor failed to ask for such a hearing.) And the judge compounded that error, all the judges said, by failing to instruct the jurors that evidence of the previous night did not prove that Cindy Gladue consented to the sexual activity in question on the night of her death”³

Both groups of judges were critical of the frequent references to Cindy Gladue’s race and sex work. “Her name was ‘Ms. Gladue,’ not ‘native woman,’ and there was no reason why the former could not have been used consistently as a simple matter of respect,” Justice Moldaver wrote.³

The court determined that Cindy’s case needed to be retried. The court stated that “her life mattered” and that the justice system failed to protect Cindy during the proceedings.³

This was groundbreaking, which is sad. Basically, there had to be two trials before it was determined that someone who kills a sex trade worker should be held responsible for their actions.

In addition, the fact that Cindy’s anatomy was presented in court was never mentioned during the decision making process. This is unfortunate because it means that this gross indecency to a woman’s memory could be repeated in the future.

Bradley Barton’s retrial date for the manslaughter of Cindy Gladue has been set for February 2020.

In my many years of true crime research, I have never heard of a case where even after death, a victim’s soul was so desecrated. The thought of writing this article made me feel sick to my stomach because the way Cindy was treated was disgusting.

However, I feel Cindy’s story needs to be told. Many Canadians have heard of Cindy’s case. Internationally, I believe it is an obscurely referenced case of racial prejudice in the court system. Thankfully, the monster that is Bradley Barton will get his day in court and I have high hopes that he will pay for his crimes against Cindy.

Cindy was a woman who loved to cook and draw. Cindy loved to listen to eighties classic rock and was very connected to her native heritage. Cindy’s mother, Donna Mcleod is a very brave woman and a loving mother. No mother should have to go through what she has had to endure. She is a very strong person. I cannot remove the indignities that have happened to Cindy’s memory but it is my hope that this article helps bring awareness to her case.

Cindy was a mother of three, a daughter, and a HUMAN BEING. Cindy was not just a “prostitute” or a “native” as she was referred to over 50 times in her trial. This is why I used Cindy’s name a total of 51 times in this article.


[1]: Kathryn Blaze Carlson. (June 5, 2017). More Than a Tragic Headline: Cindy Gladue Dreamt of a Happy Life. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-death-and-life-of-cindy-gladue/article24455472/
[2]: Unknown author.(Unknown date).MMIW Profiles: Cindy Ivy Gladue. https://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered/mmiw/profiles/cindy-gladue
[3]: Sean Fine. (May 24, 2019). ‘Her life mattered’: Supreme Court orders new manslaughter trial in death of Cindy Gladue. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-supreme-court-orders-new-manslaughter-trial-in-death-of-cindy-gladue/

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