Inquiry begins into 'disturbing' case of rape victim jailed with attacker

Lance Blanchard
Convicted attacker Lance Blanchard. Photo credit: Edmonton Police Department

An investigation has been launched in Canada after a woman who accused a man of sexual assault was detained in the same jail as her alleged attacker and taken to court in the same prison van as him.

"The facts of this case are disturbing and tragic, and when you add in the treatment of the victim in the system, they are almost incomprehensible," Alberta's justice minister Kathleen Ganley said.

"What is clear is that both policies and people failed in this case."

The ordeal began in 2014. The woman - a First Nations Canadian - was homeless and sleeping in an apartment stairwell.

A Canadian court heard that she was woken by the man holding a knife to her throat. He then dragged her by her hair up the stairs to his apartment. She tried to fight off the sexual assault, and was stabbed several times,

Her calls for help were heard and witnesses who found her say she was covered in knife wounds and was bruised where the man had tried to choke her.

A year later at the preliminary hearing in court she was struggling to stay awake and answer questions, court documents show. It is believed she was under the influence of drugs.

The judge agreed to the prosecution's request that she be kept in the court jail over the weekend. The request was based on a rule that if witnesses refuse to answer questions, they can be detained.

In the days following, the woman begged the judge to release her.

"It's not a pleasant scene I'm living," she said. "I'm the victim and look at me, I'm in shackles. Aren't you supposed to commit a crime to go to jail?"

Instead she was detained for another five nights, in the same facility as her attacker, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

She was also driven to court in the same van as her alleged attacker, at least two times.

Three years after the attack, her attacker, Lance Blanchard, was convicted on charges including sexual assault, kidnapping and unlawful confinement.

Months after the trial, the woman was killed in an unrelated shooting, the Guardian reports.

"She was the victim of a horrific crime," Justice Minister Ms Ganley said. "And when she came to the justice system, we failed to treat her with the respect and dignity she deserved."

"One of the questions that keeps me up at night is whether it would have been the case that if this woman was Caucasian and housed and not addicted, whether this would have happened to her."