Thunder Bay

Racism killed Barbara Kentner, says Thunder Bay group rallying outside trial of man accused of killing her

The death of Barbara Kentner, who was struck by a trailer hitch thrown at her from a passing car in 2017, is an example of the kind of racism that is still happening in Thunder Bay, Ont., says Anishinaabe elder Ma-Nee Chacaby.

Not One More Death, a grassroots group in Thunder Bay, demonstrated in support of Kentner on Tuesday

Sierra Grouette-McDougall demonstrates in support of Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay Ont., on Tuesday. The rally was organized by a grassroots group called Not One More Death. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The death of Barbara Kentner, who was struck by a trailer hitch thrown at her from a passing car in 2017, is an example of the kind of racism that is still happening in Thunder Bay, Ont., says Anishinaabe elder Ma-Nee Chacaby.

Chacaby was among the dozens of people who demonstrated in support of Kentner and her family on Tuesday, in a park near the hotel where the trial of the man who threw the trailer hitch is underway.

Kentner, a mother, and member of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation died six months after being struck with the hitch while she was walking in a residential neighbourhood in Thunder Bay.

"I'm here to support Barbara Kentner, but also to address that this is an example of racism that is still happening," said Chacaby, the spokesperson for the grassroots group Not One More Death. The group's stated mission is to "respond to the horrendous rates of premature death suffered by Indigenous and racialized people in Thunder Bay."

"Thunder Bay has a problem with racism," says Trevor Weenink, a member of Not One More Death, a grassroots group that demonstrated in support of Barbara Kentner and her family on Tuesday. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"I'm hoping Barbara will get justice and to me that will be if people are working on racism," Chacaby said.

Brayden Bushby, 21, has admitted to the court that he threw the trailer hitch. One of the people who was in the car with him that night testified that Bushby threw the hitch and later laughed about it. Bushby's defence lawyer plans to argue the assault is not the most significant factor in Kentner's death.

"This so-called 'crumbling skull' argument (the victim was prone to die, therefore the murderer might not have actually killed them) was also used by the Canadian government and churches in court to try and deflect blame for the harms of residential schools, arguing that Indigenous child inmates were already suffering abuse and neglect before their incarceration," wrote Lakehead University professor Max Haven in an article about the case published in Canadian Dimension in September.

"Thunder Bay murders Indigenous people fast and slow, and then blames them for their own death," wrote Haven, who is also a member of Not One More Death.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Toby Rose, who conducted the post-mortem on Barbara Kentner testified on Tuesday that the cause of her death is complicated.

Rose told the court that Kentner died of pneumonia, as a consequence of a traumatic rupture to the small intestine, as a consequence of blunt force injury to the abdomen. Rose said Kentner's chronic liver disease contributed to her death but was not the cause of it.

Bushby's defence lawyer is set to cross-examine Rose on Wednesday morning. In his opening remarks, George Joseph told the court that he would set out to prove there were other significant factors that contributed to Kentner's death.

Dozens of people gathered near the hotel in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Tuesday where the trial of Brayden Bushby, accused of killing Barbara Kentner is underway. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Not One More Death group member Trevor Weenink said it's important not to let the trial distract from the underlying problem facing the city — that Indigenous people are disproportionately the targets of racism and violence in Thunder Bay and will continue to be targets unless there is significant change.

That change won't happen "if we continue to deny, and we allow our leaders to deny, there is a problem with racism in this city," Weenink said. "Thunder Bay has a problem with racism."

The pathologist is the final witness in the trial of Brayden Bushby, which is set to wrap up on Thursday.

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