The Current

'I'm the victim and look at me, I'm in shackles': Alberta sexual assault victim jailed while testifying

Alberta's justice minister has apologized for the way a sexual assault victim was treated by the justice system two years ago.
This photograph shows injuries Angela Cardinal suffered when she was attacked by Lance Blanchard. (Edmonton Police Service)

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Warning: This segment contains disturbing details about sexual assault.

Two years ago today, a 27-year-old woman we're calling Angela Cardinal took the stand in an Edmonton courtroom. A publication ban prohibits CBC from identifying her. 

She was there to testify at the preliminary hearing of a man charged with sexually assaulting her.

Related: 'I'm the victim and I'm in shackles': Edmonton woman jailed while testifying against her attacker

The CBC's Janice Johnston uncovered the harrowing details of the night Cardinal was attacked and the unnerving chain of events that followed.

A homeless woman just trying to survive, Cardinal was curled up by a heater in the stairwell of an Edmonton apartment building, singing a song to lull herself to sleep. She had no idea Lance Blanchard — a notorious sexual predator — lived in the building. He chose her as his next victim. 
It took 27 stitches to close the wound on Cardinal's hand after she was attacked by the knife-wielding Lance Blanchard. (Edmonton Police Service )

A year after her traumatic experience, Cardinal was called to take the stand, but was reluctant to testify because she didn't want to see Blanchard.

"Imagine what it would be like to suddenly have to face the man who had terrorized you," Johnston tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

According to Johnston, Cardinal was mentally and physically unprepared to testify. She had difficulty focusing and kept falling asleep in the courthouse.

Imagine what it would be like to suddenly have to face the man who had terrorized you.- Janice Johnston, CBC News

"Since then I've spoken to the prosecutor and she tells me that in hindsight, she figures Angela was likely sleep deprived and malnourished just from living on the streets. But at the time, she didn't know what the problem was with Angela," she says.

The judge in the case ordered Cardinal to be held in an Edmonton jail for five nights. She hadn't committed any crime. 

"Victims of sexual assault require a great deal of support in order to give testimony, and this was the farthest thing from victim support that I've ever seen," Deb Tomlinson of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services told Johnston. 
Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said she was shocked and appalled by the justice system's treatment of Angela Cardinal. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

When Cardinal finally took the stand, she had to testify wearing leg shackles. 

"I'm the victim and look at me, I'm wearing shackles … this is a great system," Cardinal can be heard saying in a court tape.

Seven months after Cardinal testified at the preliminary hearing, she was accidentally shot and killed in an unrelated incident. She was never able to see Blanchard brought to justice.

We should have treated her as the victim.- Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley

There has been a lot of discussion about the way sexual assault complainants are treated by the justice system, but Cardinal's story is particularly disturbing — so disturbing that the province's justice minister apologized for what happened to her.

Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley called what happened to Cardinal "shocking, appalling and completely unacceptable." 

"She should not have been put in there. She was the victim. We should have treated her as the victim," Ganley said to Johnston.

"And I think it definitely speaks to a series of wrong decisions and a series of systemic failures that would have allowed us to do something like this to this young woman."

Listen to this full story at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Josh Bloch.