Manitoba chiefs call for reform after Anishinaabe woman subjected to racial slurs during court hearing

The organization that represents First Nations in southern Manitoba is calling for justice reform after an Anishinaabe woman suffered repeated racist and misogynistic verbal attacks during a trial.

Southern Chiefs' Organization wants investigation into hearing, anti-racism training for judges

A profile view of a First Nations chief in traditional headdress
Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, shown here in a 2020 file photo, is condemning a judge for not intervening when a witness repeatedly called an Anishinaabe mother of four a number of sexist and racist slurs. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Warning: This story contains disturbing language.

The organization that represents First Nations in southern Manitoba is calling for justice reform after an Anishinaabe woman suffered repeated racist and misogynistic verbal attacks during a trial last year.

The Southern Chiefs' Organization is calling for an official complaint to be made against Manitoba provincial court Judge Samuel Raposo, who didn't intervene or address repeated slurs uttered by a witness during the April 2021 hearing.

The witness called the woman on trial a "slut," a "whore" and a "rez dog," CBC reported earlier this week.

Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said his heart sank when he read about the "hateful diatribe."

"How can you expect a fair outcome when witnesses are allowed to use racism and misogyny as part of their testimonies," he said in a news release on Tuesday.

Such language "feeds stereotypes about First Nation women and there is no place for this in any part of our public systems, especially in justice where our citizens are overrepresented and often subjected to overt racism," Daniels said in the release.

SCO wants an official complaint to be launched against Judge Raposo, and for the province's chief judge and Human Rights Commission to investigate what happened during the trial.

The organization also wants judges to take part in ongoing anti-racism and intercultural competency training to combat internal biases.

A provincial government spokesperson said in an email the government is committed to reconciliation and meaningful dialogue with First Nations leaders on all issues, including the administration of justice, but said it's inappropriate for the Attorney General to comment on individual cases.

A Manitoba court spokesperson previously told CBC a judge cannot be asked to respond to questions about a specific case, because their comments are reserved for open court. 

The spokesperson said in an earlier written statement that generally speaking, a judge may be reluctant to interrupt a witness as it could be perceived as influencing or interfering with evidence.

Repeated slurs

The 29-year-old woman on trial was accused of assaulting the paternal grandmother of her children. CBC is not naming the woman so as not to retraumatize her.

"If she wants to go and whore around and be a slut, that's her problem," a 51-year-old witness testifying against the woman said during the trial.

"She's known as a rez dog. She's the [reserve's] bicycle. Everybody's had a ride."

During sentencing, the woman's lawyer, Joshua Rogala, said the trial process "made her feel very dehumanized."

The woman could not be reached for comment on CBC's initial story. Rogala declined an interview for that story.

With files from Joanne Levasseur