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Barbara Kentner has been failed again, says family after Brayden Bushby gets day parole in trailer-hitch death

Brayden Bushby has been released on day parole after serving two years of an eight-year term for manslaughter in the case of Barbara Kentner, who was struck by a trailer hitch in Thunder Bay, Ont. Her family says they weren't told about his release in advance, raising questions about victim notification and the consequences of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

First Nation victim's family says they weren't told man convicted in her Thunder Bay death was up for parole

A collage of photos.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details of violence against Indigenous women.

Melissa Kentner is angry.

The man convicted of manslaughter in the death of her sister, Barbara Kentner, has been released from prison on day parole after serving two years of an eight-year sentence.

"I was crying that day when I found out," Melissa said in an interview with CBC News. "I was having a [really] bad panic attack, like I thought I was going to have a heart attack."

Barbara, of Wabigoon Lake First Nation, died on July 4, 2017, in Thunder Bay, Ont., from medical complications, months after she was struck by a trailer hitch. She was 34 — a mother, a sister, a cousin and an aunt. Her death made national news in a country facing a crisis of violence against Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

Brayden Bushby, now 24, was sentenced in June 2021 to eight years in prison for Barbara's death. Due to time already served, that was reduced to seven years and 11 months.

WATCH | Barbara Kentner's sisters react to the sentence in 2021:

Connie Kentner speaks to reporters after Brayden Bushby sentencing

5 days ago

Duration 1:32

Connie Kentner gives her reaction after Brayden Bushby was sentenced to an eight-year sentence for manslaughter after throwing a trailer hitch at Kentner's sister Barbara from a passing car.

This Aug. 10, Bushby was granted day parole, but was denied full parole, according to documents from the Parole Board of Canada.

He has been ordered:

  • Not to consume, purchase or possess alcohol.
  • Not to enter establishments where the primary source of income is derived from the sale or consumption of alcohol.
  • To have no direct or indirect contact with the victim's immediate family.
  • To follow the treatment plan/program arranged by his parole supervisor in the areas of substance abuse and emotions.

Before his day parole release, Bushby tried to appeal his sentence. Court of Appeal documents obtained by CBC News show his lawyers argued for either his manslaughter conviction to be withdrawn and replaced with a charge of aggravated assault, or for the court to order a retrial on the manslaughter charge.

However, the parole board documents indicate Bushby is no longer pursuing the appeal.

Melissa said nobody told her about Bushby's parole release and she learned about it through the neighbour of one of Bushby's relatives.

Victim notification issues

If a victim of a crime or their family want updates about an offender, they must contact the Parole Board of Canada or Correctional Services Canada, and register for victim notification, a parole board spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

"Information is not automatically provided to victims; this is to respect the privacy rights of victims who do not wish to be contacted or receive information about the offender who harmed them," the spokesperson said.

Melissa tried to sign up for victim notifications, but said the online application didn't work. She said she called someone for help but said the person on the phone couldn't assist her.

She thought her relatives had successfully signed up to be notified, but they didn't receive any emails, either, Melissa said.

"It's a lack of communication on their end — they have all the [family's] phone numbers," she said. "I would have made my way over there just to dispute him not trying to get his parole.

"I would have fought tooth and nail."

The issue of victim notification came to a head this summer with the prison transfer of convicted rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo. Families of the victims said they were only told the morning he was moved from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility.

Sherry Abotossaway of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation is a criminal defence lawyer based in Thunder Bay. She said she understands that offenders typically become eligible for parole after serving a third of their sentence. Bushby had only served about a quarter of his term.

"Being an Indigenous person, you look at that like, 'Was her life not valued or something?' Because this person served so little time in custody. But then you have to come back and realize that unfortunately, the justice system and the procedures are a certain way for everybody," Abotossaway said.

Had Barbara's family been able to register for victim notifications, they would have been told the dates of Bushby's parole hearings and could have submitted additional victim impact statements, she said.

"Maybe the system has to change to where it's automatic, where they let the victim's family know that this person's up for parole so they can make those submissions," she said. "It's got to be very shocking for the family."

Melissa said she doesn't know what she'll do if she encounters Bushby in Thunder Bay.

"I can't go walk around by myself," she said. "I have to be with somebody to protect me now, now that he's out."

'It touches a lot of Indigenous people'

Indigenous people are about six times more likely to be victims of homicide than non-Indigenous people, according to data collected by Statistics Canada from 2015 to 2020, and about four in 10 Indigenous people were either sexually or physically assaulted by an adult before they were 15.

Abotossaway sees this first hand within the justice system, but also in her own life.

"I have family who are missing and murdered. I have my aunt who went missing in London — we're still looking for the person who murdered her. One of my relatives was found on the Pickton pig farm, and [Robert Pickton] was prosecuted and found guilty for her murder as well," she said about the high-profile B.C. case.

"It touches a lot of Indigenous people."

Meanwhile, Indigenous people are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system; Abotossaway said between 70 and 80 per cent of her clients are Indigenous, which is not uncommon in the north.

The incarceration rate of Indigenous people was about nine times higher than for non-Indigenous people in 2020-2021, according to Statistics Canada's overrepresentation index.

"Why should [Bushby] be walking the streets and there's people my colour, like Ojibways and Native people, that are still in prison serving their whole time?" Melissa asked. "Not even getting into trouble while they're in prison and still, they get denied [parole] all the time."

For Cora McGuire-Cyrette, chief executive officer of the Ontario Native Women's Association, "this is what systemic racism and discrimination looks like."

Barbara's death hits close to home for McGuire-Cyrette, whose cousin, 20-year-old Jamie Nora McGuire of Gull Bay First Nation, was killed in 1994 just outside Winnipeg.

"We're standing with the family — that we need to honour Barbara Kentner and her family through justice — and once again, the justice system has failed at multiple levels for Barbara Kentner and for Indigenous women as a whole," McGuire-Cyrette said.

"This is what normalization of violence looks like here in Canada, where it's not safe to be an Indigenous woman," she said, adding that "if this happened to a Caucasian woman, there would be justice."

Bushby was not convicted of a hate-motivated crime, which McGuire-Cyrette sees as a "missed opportunity in this case as well."

She pointed to the ongoing controversy in Manitoba, where there are calls to search the Prairie Green Landfill for the suspected remains of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and possibly a third unidentified person known as Buffalo Woman.

"This is what systemic racism does. It normalizes violence against Indigenous women and therefore is not going to deter people from continuing to project violence against us," McGuire-Cyrette said.

It's her view that Bushby's day parole release sends the message that lives like Barbara's matter less than non-Indigenous lives.

"These systems were not designed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people; they were actually purposely designed with a colonial mindset and to perpetuate systemic racism and discrimination against us," she said.

"In this case, clearly the justice system is saying violence against Indigenous women is OK and if you perpetrate violence, you're not going to be held accountable."

Her message to Indigenous women and girls is: "Continue to be strong and resilient."

"As long as we continue to take up our leadership roles and responsibilities in community, we will be the last generation to be suffering in this manner," McGuire-Cyrette said. "We have to continue to push forward together collectively, and continue to tell our truth and demand action and accountability."

Melissa wants people to remember her sister as a person who was kind, who tried her best for her daughter, Serena, who has since died of cancer, and who deserved better.

"My sister was sweet. She would give the shirt off her back if she needed to," Melissa Kentner said. "She would do anything for her daughter."


A national, toll-free support line is available for those impacted by missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S+ people at 1-844-413-6649.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Law

Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at sarah.law@cbc.ca

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