TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains information about sexual assault and physical violence which may be triggering to survivors and to families of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Note: The title of this blog is taken from a poem by a pro-choice activist from Austin, Texas, Katie Heim. She penned the poem to draw attention to the overregulation of women’s sexuality versus the under-regulation of guns.
Cindy Gladue was thirty six when she died in 2011. Katie Heim was the same age when she wrote her poem for women’s rights. Cindy and Katie were both mothers. Katie states in an interview she wrote the poem for reproductive justice for young women, not for herself.
Saturday, April 4, the day before Easter Sunday. Another storm rocks Atlantic Canada. Snow begins to fall in the mid- afternoon covering the signs of spring that were emerging, from bare ground to murky puddles. A good day to stay inside. Almost all of it is spent struggling to write this blog entry. The subject in mind is the acquittal of Ontario trucker, Bradley Barton, on the charge of first degree murder for the homicide of an Edmonton resident, Cindy Gladue. The last grainy image of Cindy shows her walking with Barton in the Yellowhead Inn holding his hand. I study the picture, blow it up on my screen for clues of a “bad date.” A gesture described by the defence as affectionate looks menacing. Barton clenches Gladue’s right hand. Her left hand is raised, brushing her hair. A large man lurks immediately behind them, carrying a plastic bag. This was her last night.
To call the facts of Cindy’s death shocking, distasteful seems trite. Cindy Gladue was left to bleed to death in a hotel bathtub. Barton maintains he fell asleep. Claims he asked Cindy Gladue to leave without payment hours before he found her lifeless body. Rejected her when his fingers inserted in her vagina became bloodied. Menstrual blood, he claims. To his surprise, he says, she was still in his room the next morning, lying cold in the bathroom. Blood all over. It was an accident, Barton maintains. Not his fault. “He walks into the bathroom and walks into the nightmare of his life,” Barton’s lawyer, Dino Bottos, has the nerve to say at the trial.
The jury is unaware that Barton’s computer is filled with images of violent pornography, some showing vaginal insertions, others depicting the torture of women. These images are not admitted into evidence. The Crown succumbs to the defence’s claim the evidence would be too prejudicial. The Crown does insist, against defence objections, that Cindy Gladue’s preserved vagina become part of the evidence. The trial breaks ground on this front, pushing the macabre facts to another extreme. It is the same old story, however, in regard to callousness and indifference towards indigenous women generally and indigenous sex workers particularly.
With these details in mind, first attempts at the blog entry fail. Frustration grows. I search poetry for inspiration. Katie Heim’s provocative poem stands out. To Americans, she is known as the Texan woman who protested against a proposed bill in 2013 restricting abortion access. After waiting for 6 hours to address the state senate, Katie Heim decided to adopt a creative approach. She penned If My Vagina Was a Gun. These lines open Heim’s poem:
If my vagina was a gun, you would stand for its rights,
You would ride on buses and fight all the fights.
If my vagina was a gun, you would treat it with care,
The poem was a hit – tweeted all over the nation. Given its influence, it is being reframed here for Cindy Gladue. If our vaginas were guns, I wonder, would they be treated like intimate personal possessions? Would they be held in greater honour, treated as our property?
Following this logic, what if Cindy Gladue’s vagina was a gun? Perhaps the Province of Alberta would go all the way to the Supreme Court to demand protection for it. Alberta leaders would argue others should not control Cindy Gladue’s vagina. I imagine it would be regarded as hers and hers alone. The Prime Minister would argue vigorously on Cindy’s Gladue’s rights to bear it. Stephen Harper might call a national public inquiry for her vagina, if it were a gun.
Katie Heim wrote “Vaginas aren’t delicate, they are muscular, magic.” Heim states that her vagina is not a gun; “it is a mightier thing.” She demands that law makers “stop messing” with hers. This blog post is written to demand the same on behalf of Cindy Gladue, her family and her community. To implore that officers of the court, lawyers, judges, lawmakers listen, as Heim stresses, “to the voices of thousands or feel their full force,” to the calls for justice for Cindy Gladue. After all, our vaginas are NOT guns; Cindy Gladue’s vagina was NOT a gun. It was part of “a sacred, life-giving, indigenous woman’s body,” as activist Julie Kay proclaims.
It is time to send the courts, leaders, all Canadians and offenders, like Brad Barton*, that message.
Josephine L. Savarese is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. Her work relating to indigenous women and sex work has been published in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law (2012) and in a chapter in Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering (Demeter 2015). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published by Blogging for Equality.
* Barton was acquitted of the charge of first degree murder as well as the lesser included offense of manslaughter in March 2015. The case is under appeal.