Some Winnipeg women say they are regularly sexually harassed when walking downtown.

Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq sparked the debate after she went on Twitter to share her experience from last week.

"I was in Winnipeg for the ballet, walking to lunch, when a man started following me calling me a 'sexy little Indian' and asking to f--k," the Polaris Prize-winning artist tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

women downtown

Megan Deen said even though she's seven months pregnant, she always gets harassed by men downtown. (CBC)

At the time, she said she was walking to lunch from the Concert Hall.

Other women outside the Concert Hall today tell CBC they are also often targeted.

Megan Deen said even though she's seven months pregnant she regularly harassed. Her tactic is to pretend she's preoccupied.

"Like I always have to be on my phone if I'm walking downtown," she said. "It sucks. I really wish I could just walk through my own area without having to feel uncomfortable and preyed upon."  

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Holly Thomson said she's uneasy downtown when there isn't a lot of foot traffic. (CBC)

Holly Thomson also pretends to be on the phone. She said she's uneasy when there isn't a lot of foot traffic. 

"There's nobody around," she said. "Even considering that the Public Safety Building is right there, there's no police around when there's situations happening right away, right?"

Aboriginal women seen to be 'disposable'

An outspoken advocate for aboriginal women says Tagaq's experience is proof that racism is very pronounced in Winnipeg.

"Sadly, it doesn't surprise me," said Diane Redsky, project director for the Canadian Women's Foundation's National Taskforce on Human Trafficking.

Redsky said Tagaq's experience isn't an isolated one.

"This is a very public example of what many, many aboriginal women in this city experience."

Redsky said it's another example of people seeing aboriginal women as disposable.

"I'm horrified. First of all, I'm glad she's safe. And I'm glad she did the right thing by going into the store."

She said she's glad Tagaq went public so the issue gets some attention.

Jodie Layne, who runs the local chapter of Hollaback!, a website aimed at ending street harassment of women, said when it comes to catcalls and vulgar comments, men don't care whether the female is an accomplished artist or an average girl.

"When it comes to harassment, everybody is sort of subjected in that way, although we know there are groups that have higher rates of harassment like indigenous women," she said. 

Mayoral candidates react

CBC asked each of the candidates running for mayor what their reaction to Tanya Tagaq's experience.

These candidates responded to our request: 

Robert-Falcon Ouellette 

My heart goes out to Tanya Tagaq. The sad fact is that when I have spoken with girls in their teens in the North End and asked them what their greatest fear is, their answer was "sexual violence." This is a threat that too many women and girls across the city have to live with every day. 
There are many different ways of dealing with this. On the policy side, we should ensure that police are supporting  victims and following through on the prosecution of cold cases, including for sexual assaults. 
On a more basic level, we need to recognize that women and girls - and especially indigenous women and girls - are human beings, with the full rights of personhood.

Paula Havixbeck

First, I convey my concern and outrage to Ms. Tagaq for her to have experienced this in our city. 
I wish for her and all citizens to know that I feel this is indicative of a massive problem in our city - one of extreme racism and discrimination. 
This, sadly, is an example of how our aboriginal women are marginalized, abused and diminished and we must work towards solutions. 
I will continue to try and change this for our city and I would be pleased to meet with Ms. Tagaq to discuss her ideas if she so chooses.

Brian Bowman:

This is an unfortunate incident, which serves as an example of why we need to provide the Winnipeg Police Service with the resources and support to build stronger and safer neighbourhoods. 
One of the ways we will make downtown safer is by getting more residential feet on the ground. 
That's why I've pledged to increase the number of downtown residents from approximately 15,000 to 20,000 within the next four years by making our core a more livable neighbourhood. 

Judy Wasylycia-Leis:

On a personal level, I was horrified to learn about the incident involving Tanya Tagaq.  It shows we have much work to do as a community to make Winnipeg a safe place for all women and girls.