Alberta's justice minister has been accused of making an "incredibly damning allegation" about discrimination in the Angela Cardinal court case and now finds herself in a pitched battle with the province's Crown prosecutors.
In a blistering four-page letter to Kathleen Ganley dated June 6, the president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association defended the actions of the prosecutor who handled the case.
Cardinal was a 28-year-old Indigenous homeless woman who was sexually assaulted by Lance Blanchard in June 2014. When she testified at Blanchard's preliminary hearing in June 2015, Cardinal was incarcerated at the request of Crown prosecutor Patricia Innes.
The decision to remand Cardinal, not her real name, was strongly criticized by Ganley, who launched a pair of investigations to look into the case. But the minister's comments raised the hackles of the ACAA.
In his letter, association president James Pickard noted the justice minister's public comments on the case suggested that Innes and provincial court judge Ray Bodnarek "may have been motivated by racial bias."
"We find this suggestion very concerning," Pickard wrote. "We have seen absolutely no evidence of any bias and we believe the implication you have made to be extremely serious. Such discrimination is an incredibly damning allegation and should not be raised without some basis."
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Ganley fired back on June 12 in a two-page memorandum emailed to all Alberta Crown prosecutors, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News.
"I cannot and explicitly did not comment on the motivations of any individual person in the system or in this case," Ganley wrote.
Pickard, in his letter, also wrote that Ganley's public comments "do not appear to be founded on a fulsome understanding of the case."
"It is our association's view that your comments have done little to foster respect for the criminal justice system or the important and difficult role that Crown prosecutors play within that system," Pickard wrote.
Justice minister responds
Ganley tried to calm the waters in her June 12 memorandum.
"I want to extend my support for the continued difficult decisions I know you have to make on a daily basis," Ganley wrote. "Your work is often thankless, but I want to provide my clear appreciation for taking on these challenges with bravery, integrity and perseverance."
At the same time, Ganley refused to back away from her harsh comments about the justice system, which she suggested treated Cardinal "like an offender herself."
"It is not easy on any of us to admit that the system did not meet the public's legitimate expectations," the minister wrote. "But if we do not admit that this was a bad outcome, we lose the opportunity to improve the system."
But Ganley said it is clear the justice system has a disproportionate impact on certain groups.
"These are clearly systemic issues not confined to individual actors," she wrote. "I strongly believe the justice system needs to confront these (systemic) issues."
Official complaints filed
CBC News has learned that four official complaints have been filed about Judge Ray Bodnarek with provincial court Chief Judge Terry Matchett.
"The chief will be referring all of the complaints to the judicial council," Ron Hewitt, executive director of the provincial court, told CBC News in an email. "Since one of the complaints is addressed to the judicial council, it makes sense to send all four to the council.
Hewitt would not say who made the complaints. Cardinal's family has told CBC News they have not filed their official complaints yet with the chief judge. Cardinal's sister-in-law planned to drop off hers at the courthouse Tuesday.
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Calgary resident Todd Crawford filed a formal complaint about Bodnarek on June 5 after reading the story about Cardinal published on the CBC website. He shared the complaint letter with CBC News, and with the premier, the justice minister and the leader of the Official Opposition.
"The conduct detailed in the article is disturbing," Crawford wrote. "It appears Bodnarek violated this woman's human rights for his convenience."
"You need to fix this. It is not as simple as suspending or dismissing Bodnarek. This behavior is symptomatic of a deeper rot. … The only response I require is action."
Under the Judicature Act, the judicial council has the option to reprimand the judge, take corrective measures or determine no further action needs to be taken. The council can also refer the complaint for a judicial inquiry.
According to the Judicature Act, "the proceedings under this section are not public," so the outcome of any action taken by the judicial council would likely remain secret.