Jury finds Alberta men guilty of murder, manslaughter in shootings of Métis hunters

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EDMONTON — The family of two Métis hunters who were shot to death on a rural road in Alberta say they would have liked harsher convictions for the men who killed their loved ones but are satisfied those responsible will be behind bars.

A jury found Anthony Bilodeau, 33, guilty of manslaughter in the death of Jacob Sansom on Tuesday and guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Maurice Cardinal, who was Sansom's uncle.

Anthony Bilodeau's father, 58-year-old Roger Bilodeau, was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter.

"It's time to heal," Sarah Sansom, wife of Jacob Sansom, said outside the Court of Queen's Bench in Edmonton.

She said the family was hurt throughout the court process when defence lawyers and media reports focused on her husband and Cardinal's drinking.

"Are we back in the 1800s? Is this cowboys against Indians?" Sarah Sansom said. "The things that they were saying and the lies, for us, it was frustrating because we know them so well and we're like, 'they would never say things like that.'"

She said her husband didn't have a drinking problem when they were married and it didn't cause problems in their marriage.

"He has never been violent, he has always been a wonderful man, he has always treated me and my kids with love and respect," Sarah Sansom said. "He is the love of my life."

Anthony and Roger Bilodeau were charged with two counts of second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers had argued the shooting was in self-defence.

The Crown argued the father and son took the law into their own hands when they chased down Sansom and Cardinal because they believed the hunters had been at the family's farm earlier and were trying to steal.

Jurors heard that Sansom, 39, and Cardinal, 57, had been moose hunting before they were found dead on the side of a road near Glendon, Alta., on March 28, 2020.

Sansom was shot once in the chest and Cardinal was hit three times in the shoulder.

Court heard that on the night of March 27, 2020, Anthony Bilodeau got a call from his father and younger brother, who were pursuing a white Dodge pickup they suspected had been on the family farm earlier in the day.

Roger Bilodeau told his older son to meet up with them and to bring a gun for protection, court was told.

Anthony Bilodeau testified that his phone was still connected to his father's Bluetooth speaker when he heard thuds and cracking glass before his brother screamed for someone not to kill or hurt his father.

Court heard that Sansom smashed the passenger window of Roger Bilodeau's Ford F-150 with his bare fists and then allegedly attacked Joseph and Roger Bilodeau in the truck.

When he arrived, Anthony Bilodeau said, he shot Sansom because the man had charged toward him. He also said he heard Sansom call out to Cardinal to get a gun so they could kill him.

Anthony Bilodeau said he shot Cardinal after the hunter came at him with a large gun. He said Cardinal told him he was going to kill him in retaliation for shooting Sansom.

Anthony Bilodeau testified he could see Cardinal's gun had a magazine attached and he feared for everyone's safety. He said he shot Cardinal another two times in the back of the shoulder.

Showing surveillance footage from a nearby gas plant the night of the shooting, prosecutors argued that Anthony Bilodeau did not need to shoot Cardinal another two times because he was injured and a distance away by the side of the Dodge pickup.

Prosecutors said Roger Bilodeau had turned his truck around at that point and Anthony Bilodeau could have left the scene, but instead went over with the intention to kill Cardinal.

Court also heard that after the shooting, Anthony Bilodeau cut up his gun and threw it in a dump. He also disposed of lights from his bumper at another dump. He testified that he did it because he was in shock and didn't want to go to jail for protecting his family.

Court heard that a toxicology report showed Sansom's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times over the legal driving limit, while Cardinal's was nearly twice over the limit.

Brian Beresh, Anthony Bilodeau's lawyer, said outside court Tuesday that he always asks witnesses about alcohol, regardless of their background.

"We know that alcohol affects a whole bunch of issues that are important in a trial, like perception, judgment and response," Beresh said.

He said he and his client were disappointed with the verdict and that the shooting was not racially motivated.

"I think that this was a misunderstanding in rural Alberta," he said. "It wasn't about vigilantism at all, there was no suggestion of that and I think some people blew that out of proportion."

Andrea Sandmaier of the Métis Nation of Alberta said Sansom and Cardinal were important members of the Métis community and their deaths were "a huge loss."

"You can't even imagine the strength this family has and what they have endured — the ugly, ugly, ugliness of the keyboard warriors out there," Sandmaier said Tuesday outside court. "Shame, shame, shame on you."

Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, was also outside the courthouse in support of Sansom and Cardinal's family.

Boushie, a young Cree man, was killed in 2016 after an SUV he was in went onto a Saskatchewan farm. Gerald Stanley testified that he thought the people in the SUV were trying to steal his all-terrain vehicle and that his gun accidentally went off. He was acquitted of second-degree murder.

A date for a sentencing hearing for Anthony and Roger Bilodeau is expected to be set on June 17.

The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison with no parole eligibility for 10 years. Sentences can be as long as life in prison without parole eligibility for 25 years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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