Warning: Graphic content

Nearly four years ago, aboriginal sex worker Cindy Gladue bled to death in a hotel bathtub in Edmonton.

The trial of the man accused of killing her received little national attention, but his acquittal has sparked outrage, and spurred protests across the country on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, a jury in Edmonton found Bradley Barton, a trucker from Ontario, not guilty in Gladue’s death. The evidence presented at the month-long trial was graphic. Gladue, a 36-year-old mother of two, bled to death from an 11-centimetre wound in her vaginal wall. Arguing that the wound was caused by a sharp object, the prosecutors made a controversial decision to submit Gladue’s preserved vagina as evidence in the courtroom.

The defence argued that Gladue’s wound was caused by rough, consensual sex and that Barton had no intention to harm her. He was found not guilty of first-degree murder.

Aboriginal activists and Canadians across the country protested the verdict Thursday, demanding a retrial. Demonstrations were held in Edmonton, Victoria, Regina and Toronto, among other cities.

As some of the protests were getting underway Thursday, Alberta prosecutors announced that they will appeal Barton’s acquittal.

“The death of Cindy Gladue was shocking and appalling,” Chief Crown Prosecutor Michelle C. Doyle said in a brief statement. “It also resulted in significant harm to her family and the community and the ACPS (Alberta Justice and Solicitor General) continues to take that very seriously.”

Gladue’s death has become another flashpoint in the discussions about missing and murdered aboriginal women and the federal government’s refusal to call a national inquiry into the matter.

“Many are struggling to understand the verdict,” Julie Kaye, an assistant professor of sociology and director of Community Engaged Research at The King’s University in Edmonton, told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.

“It’s been seen as a horrendous form of injustice and that’s where the rallies are coming from.”

Kaye said that putting Gladue’s “reproductive organs on display” during the trial was also seen as a “very violent act towards her.”

“I think it’s important to recognize, that, as her body was placed on display, that was seen as a very dehumanizing act,” she said.

Kaye said the goal of today’s protests is to raise awareness of a “system that has disproportionately criminalized and disproportionately victimized indigenous women.” She said demonstrators also want to put the issue back on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s radar.

Speaking to the Alberta Primetime news program on Wednesday, Barton’s lawyer Dino Bottos said he understands why the Gladue case has sparked such outrage.

“It’s very hard to disagree with them and the spirit behind the protest,” he said. “Aboriginal people throughout Canada, throughout North America, face injustice and discrimination…all the time.

“I understand that fully. But I have to say to them, with the greatest of respect, they didn’t watch the evidence, they didn’t sit through four weeks of evidence.”

Bottos said his client testified that he had no intention to harm Gladue and thought that she was having her period when she started bleeding. He said the jury heard evidence from both sides, which led them to acquittal. 

The court has heard that Barton initially said he didn’t know Gladue when he called 911, but later admitted that they were having sex.