Calling for a national public inquiry into the disappearance and death of Aboriginal women, close to 2,000 mourners gathered in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday evening to participate in a vigil for Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl whose body was pulled out of the Red River over the weekend.
Fontaine was from the Sagkeeng First Nation and was in the care of a Child and Family Services agency when she went missing, according to police. She had a history of running away, family members reported. Her body was found wrapped in a plastic bag in the river near Alexander Docks, just one mile from a recently unveiled monument honoring Manitoba's missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Just last week, the remains of a 26-year-old First Nations woman, Samantha Paul of the Kamloops Indian Band, were discovered in British Columbia.
“Every week now, we hear of another Aboriginal girl or woman, who has gone missing, to be found brutally murdered," Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), said in a statement. "This must stop!”
The Canadian Human Rights Commission called Fontaine's death "a pattern that has tragically become commonplace."
In May, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a report (pdf) showing that, while Aboriginal women represent just 4.3 percent of Canada's population, they are three times more likely to experience violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women. In addition, they are significantly over-represented as victims of homicide. The report documented more than 1,100 cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women over the last 30 years — a higher number than had been previously reported — including 225 that remain unsolved.
Those statistics, combined with the deaths of Paul and Fontaine, have led to a renewed call for a full public inquiry into the issue, a proposal backed by native leaders, provincial governments, and elected officials, as well as by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya. Advocates say a formal investigation, along with a national action plan, could go a long way toward addressing what the NWAC describes as a "crisis of confidence felt in the Aboriginal communities in relation to government responses to violence against Aboriginal women and girls."
“We cannot allow violence to continue, particularly against some of the most vulnerable," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard in a statement following the news of Fontaine's death. "First Nations demand immediate and concrete steps to better ensure the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls in this country. In addition to a National Commission of Inquiry into the unresolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, this means equitable support for the care of our children, shelters, wellness and prevention initiatives.”
The federal government has so far resisted calls for such an inquiry. The Globe and Mail reports:
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The Conservative government on Tuesday reiterated it has no plans to launch a national probe, citing instead its tough-on-crime legislation and $25-million budget commitment to “directly address the issue” of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Ms. Fontaine at this very difficult time,” federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement that concluded: “Now is the time to take action, not to continue to study the issue.”
But such efforts haven't gone nearly far enough, advocates say, and the government's stance is growing increasingly unpopular.
In an editorial published Wednesday, the Prince Albert Daily Herald declared:
As it currently stands, it looks as if the Conservative Party of Canada is about the only entity out there not supportive of such an inquiry.
These women who have disappeared and been murdered don’t have the voice to scream for action, thankfully community leaders at all levels, and of all races, have been screaming louder and louder for them.
What will it take to get the Conservatives to listen and take action?