Reduced charges for man who struck First Nations woman with trailer hitch spark outrage from chiefs
'It is difficult to believe there is not a racial component to this decision,' says Grand Chief
First Nations leaders in Ontario are condemning a court decision that reduced the charges against the man accused of throwing a trailer hitch from a moving car at Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Kentner died less than six months later.
Last week, the Crown filed a new indictment against Brayden Bushby, 20, who had been charged with second-degree murder in Kentner's death. Bushby will now stand trial for manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Barbara Kentner, 34, required surgery after being hit in the abdomen by the trailer hitch while walking home on Jan. 29, 2017. Her sister, Melissa Kentner, told CBC News that Barbara never recovered from her injuries. She died on July 4, 2017.
"We see this time and time again where violence against Indigenous people is not given the same level of care and attention in the Canadian justice system," said Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, who represents 28 First Nations in northwestern Ontario, including Kentner's home community of Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation.
"It is difficult for us to believe there is not a racial component to this decision," Kavanaugh said in a news release on Friday. "For our people, it is easy to see that had the situation been reversed — had an Indigenous person struck and killed a non-Indigenous person — the accused would already be in jail facing a murder charge."
Kavanaugh joins a chorus of voices expressing outrage over the way the case is being handled. In addition to the change in charges, the case will now be heard by judge alone, instead of before a jury as previously scheduled.
"The Canadian justice system does not see Indigenous women as someone's daughter, mother, wife, sister and barely the victim of a crime," said Anishinabek Nation Grand Chief Council Glen Hare, who represents 39 First Nations throughout the province.
"The ink of The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is not even dry," Hare said in a September 17 news release. "Must we wait until enough Indigenous people have reached a place of privilege in Canadian society for justice to be served?"
Both leaders also said the violence experienced by Kentner is an example of the anti-Indigenous racism in Thunder Bay.
"Whether living there or just visiting, we all know full well how notorious that city is for its widespread racism and hatred," Kavanaugh said. "For someone to be killed in such a manner, it demonstrates how problematic our peoples' experiences can be there."
And both leaders vowed to continue to press for action on justice reform.
The trial for Brayden Bushby is scheduled to begin on October 13, in Thunder Bay.