The reversal of a controversial 2015 acquittal of an Ontario man charged with killing an Indigenous woman in Edmonton is being hailed as a precedent-setting victory by those involved in the appeal.

Two years ago, a jury found Bradley Barton not guilty in the death of Cindy Gladue, a 36-year-old sex worker who was found dead in the bathtub of his hotel room in 2011.

Alberta's Court of Appeal on Friday announced the acquittal has been overturned and there will be another first degree murder trial for Barton.

"I'm feeling elated about the decision, it's much more than I or my clients expected," said Lisa Weber, the lawyer who represented two women's groups allowed to intervene in the appeal.

"This is just really surprising but in a good way," she said.

Groups may intervene in appeal

An Alberta Court of Appeal Justice in 2016 ruled the two groups Weber represents would be allowed to intervene in the appeal.

The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) gave written submissions to the three-judge appeal panel working on the case.

"I am a bit surprised, honestly. But I'm very, very pleased," Kim Stanton, the legal director of LEAF, said of the decision.

"Cindy Gladue was an Indigenous woman who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect."


Cindy Gladue, 36, was found dead in the bathtub of an Edmonton hotel room in 2011. (Facebook)

The original decision to acquit Barton was described by the appeal court as having "exposed the flaws in the legal infrastructure used for instructing juries on sexual offences in Canada."

Further, "as guardians of all constitutionally protected rights, courts must do what is necessary to rein in what remain clear and present dangers to a fair trial for sexual offences."

Muriel Stanley Venne, the IAAW founder and president, said she's optimistic the decision will set a precedent for future sexual assault cases.

Indigenous women in the courts

"Their decision really gives me hope because my experience is that Indigenous women have very great difficulty with the courts," Stanley Venne said.

In its decision, the appeals court acknowledged these difficulties. The jury in Barton's case had been repeatedly exposed to "discriminatory beliefs or biases about the sexual availability of Indigenous women."

She was referred to as "prostitute," "Native girl" and "Native woman" during the trial.

The appeal court wrote that "the time has come to push the reset button for jury charges in this country for cases involving an alleged sexual assault."

But Barton's lawyer, Dino Bottos, said the appeal court is doing so at his client's expense.

"I think the court of appeal is making a political statement as much as a legal one," Bottos said. 

"It's trying to correct every perceived inequity in sexual assault law in Canada in this judgment and it went far beyond what the Crown, on appeal, was arguing and that's not fair to Mr. Barton."

A date has not yet been set for the new trial to begin.