Sex assault victim jailed after Crown, police refused to pick up hotel bill

Angela Cardinal, the homeless sex assault victim who was jailed while testifying against her attacker, could have stayed in a hotel instead of the Edmonton Remand Centre. But nobody was willing to pick up the tab for a room, CBC News has learned.

'I think at the end of the day it's not really whether she minds or not,' Crown told judge

Angela Cardinal (a pseudonym) was sexually assaulted in June 2014 by sexual predator Lance Blanchard. She provided a statement to police after her release from hospital. (Edmonton Police Service )

A homeless sex assault victim who was jailed while testifying against her attacker could have stayed in a hotel, but no one was willing to pick up the tab, CBC News has learned.

Angela Cardinal was attacked and sexually assaulted by Lance Blanchard in June 2014.

During the preliminary hearing a year later, Cardinal was remanded into custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre for five nights at the request of Crown prosecutor Patricia Innes, who feared she would not return the next day to testify.

Cardinal was shackled at times and was forced to travel in a prison van with the man who attacked her.

Cardinal's treatment by the justice system, first reported by CBC News, is now the subject of two reviews ordered by Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley.

Cardinal is not the woman's real name. Her name is covered by a publication ban even though the Cree woman, originally from Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, died in an unrelated, accidental shooting months after testifying at Blanchard's preliminary hearing.

Edmonton Police Service paid for Angela Cardinal's hotel rooms for two nights before she testified, then EPS and the Crown refused to cover a weekend hotel bill. (Peter Evans/CBC )

The Edmonton Police Service paid for Cardinal to spend two nights in a hotel room in June 2015. With a weekend approaching, Innes met with police to discuss more hotel time for the witness.

The Crown prosecutor met with Det. Marci Koshowski to discuss the hotel option, and the officer recounted the conversation to her partner, Det. Erich Reule.

The exchange was captured on audiotape later entered as evidence at Blanchard's trial.

Koshowski: I know the Crown isn't going to pay for putting her up in a hotel. And you know we can't as EPS.

Reule: So they don't do that?

K: No.

R: Oh, OK.

K: Well, I don't say they don't, but not over the weekend, right?

R: Oh, OK.

The next day, Innes asked provincial court Judge Ray Bodnarek to put Cardinal in jail. The judge agreed.

Blanchard's lawyer, Tom Engel, had a front-row seat to all the proceedings. 

"I don't know if it came down to money," Engel said in an interview.

"What's a hotel cost? Like 90, 100 bucks a night. We're talking about a hotel on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So 300 bucks.

Defence lawyer Tom Engel calls what happened to Angela Cardinal 'illegal detention.' (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

"Did it come down to 300 bucks?"

At a news conference last week, Ganley was asked if money might have played a role in the decisions made. She said she hoped not.

"I would like to think that economics played no part in this particular decision," Ganley said. "But obviously there were some really troubling decisions made in this case, so it's difficult to speak to why this happened."

Decision could have been about control

Engel has repeatedly referred to jailing Cardinal as "an illegal detention." But he doubts that finances were the sole reason.

"Assuming, for the sake of the discussion, that the Crown and the police did refuse to pay for it," Engel said. "I have no idea why they would make such a decision. I mean, if it was just about the money, that just seems absurd."

Engel is convinced the prosecutor was determined to get a conviction.

"My concern is that it was [about] quite a bit more than money," he said.

"It was to have her jailed so they would have complete control of her — get her ready to testify and deprive her from any access to drugs, so that she'd be a much better witness. I have a really hard time thinking that it was all about the money. Because like I say, the money is peanuts.

Lance Blanchard, 59, will have a dangerous offender hearing in January 2018, when he is sentenced for his attack on Angela Cardinal. (Edmonton Police Service )

"To me, the prime objective here was to get a conviction on Blanchard. And anything that stood in the way of that was not particularly important."

Complaint from Crown prosecutors

CBC News obtained a copy of a letter the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association sent Ganley on June 6, the day after the justice minister held a news conference to announce two investigations into the Cardinal case. In the four-page letter, association president James Pickard vigorously defended decisions made by Innes in the case.

"As we understand it, Ms. Innes consulted colleagues before making her decision and showed considerable concern for the victim, including exhausting all alternative steps, before seeking the detention order," Pickard wrote.

Defence lawyer Engel questioned whether "all alternative steps" were, in fact, exhausted.

On the day she asked the judge to remand Cardinal, Innes told the judge: "If we turn her back after today to her own devices I can probably guarantee, short of having an officer essentially handcuff himself to her, she won't be here unless the officers are lucky enough to find her again. It's in the public interest that she be here to testify."

After Cardinal spent the weekend in custody, it became clear she was not happy about the situation. When she returned to court on Monday, the hearing was interrupted by her wails of anguish in the cells next to the courtroom.

But the prosecutor was resolute. "I think at the end of the day, it's not really whether she minds or not," Innes told the judge. "It's more what's in the interests of these proceedings."

Alice Woolley, president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics, said she's troubled by many aspects of the Cardinal case.

Alice Woolley, president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics, has prepared a submission on the Cardinal case for the justice minister. (Supplied)

"What really bothers me about this case is that this is an exercise of enormous consequences for this young woman," Woolley said. "And we did not follow, in my view, the procedures that are required to do that right."

She noted that no evidence was presented to the court to support the Crown's request to remand Cardinal.

"There were statements made by the lawyer," she said. "But a lawyer is not a witness. They're not under oath, and in fact a lawyer is not permitted to give evidence in a hearing. They have an ethical obligation not to be what they call an unsworn witness. So you have a case here where this order was issued based only on statements by the Crown counsel."

Next steps

Woolley has made a submission to the investigator appointed by Ganley to look into the case. She also forwarded her submission to provincial court Chief Judge Terry Matchett and to the Law Society of Alberta.

She said Matchett should look at whether Judge Bodnarek properly exercised his responsibilities, while the law society should see "whether the lawyers who are involved also did what they were supposed to do in this case."

In the letter to Ganley, the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association conceded, "It is not clear whether the detention of the complainant throughout her testimony, once she became co-operative, was in accordance with [the Criminal Code]."


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston was an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father.