A rape victim was detained in the same jail as her attacker and forced to ride in a cramped transport van with him to court after a judge ordered her detained to ensure her testimony.
The 28-year-old woman, who was homeless at the time, was raped in June 2014 after sleeping in the stairwell of an Edmonton apartment building where a notorious sexual predator lived, reported CBC.
Lance Blanchard, a career criminal and sex predator, dragged her to his apartment, where he stabbed and sexually assaulted the Cree woman — who managed to dial 911 on her cell phone and record the violent attack.
The woman faced her attacker a year later at his preliminary hearing, and prosecutor Patricia Innes complained the woman had “presented in a condition unsuitable for testifying, and we don’t know what the reason is,” after she kept falling asleep in court and had trouble focusing and answering questions.
Provincial court Judge Raymond Bodnarek ordered her remanded into custody under Canadian law to ensure her testimony — and she begged him to reconsider after returning to court following a weekend in jail.
“I’m the victim and look at me, I’m in shackles,” she said, and the judge explained she was going back to jail for another night to make sure she would return to court the next day.
“It’s not a pleasant scene I’m living,” the woman said. “Like, I’m the fricking victim here and I mean, like, come on. You sit in the back of those cells. It feels like an hour went by but really it’s only 20 minutes.”
The judge refused to let the woman leave jail — where Blanchard was also held in custody — and stay with her mother.
At least twice, the woman was forced to travel about 10 minutes each way in the same cramped prisoner transport as Blanchard from the jail and Edmonton’s courthouse.
She was also placed in a cell near Blanchard’s during court breaks.
“None of us will ever really understand what it was like for her to sit there and stare at the man who did this to her — while she’s trapped, essentially,” said Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who learned about the case from CBC.
Ganley has already formed a special committee to review the case, and she hopes to make “aggressive changes” to ensure no one else endures the treatment.
“I’ve never seen a case like this,” she said. “I mean, how many people did she come into contact with and nobody stood up and said, ‘Guys I think this is wrong. I think we’ve made a mistake.'”
Seven months after the woman testified at the preliminary hearing, she was killed in an unrelated, accidental shooting.
The man who fatally shot her later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Her testimony was allowed at Blanchard’s trial, and Justice Eric Macklin found him guilty of aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, aggravated sexual assault, possession of a weapon and threatening to cause death or bodily harm.
Macklin wrote in his 49-page decision that he was troubled by the lower court’s treatment of the victim.
“Her treatment by the justice system was appalling,” he wrote. “She is owed an apology.”
Ganley, the justice minister, regrets that she was unable to apologize to the victim before her death, but she has called the woman’s mother to offer an apology.
“I know there’s nothing that can ever be done to make it up,” Ganley said. “But I certainly hope we can find a way to never let this happen again.”