Tina Fontaine death renews calls for inquiry into missing women
Canadian Human Rights Commission says full public inquiry needed into root causes
The federal government is again rejecting calls for an inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, which have been renewed by the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement Tuesday that "our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Ms. Fontaine at this very difficult time."
But MacKay also rejected calls for an inquiry, saying the government is addressing the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in other ways, such as through aboriginal justice programs and a national DNA missing persons index.
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Still, calls for a national inquiry have been growing louder with every aboriginal woman who disappears or is discovered dead.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has added its voice to the latest calls for a national inquiry, which followed the discovery of Fontaine's body inside a bag in the river near the Alexander Docks on Sunday.
Winnipeg police are treating her death as a homicide. They and the teen's family are asking anyone with information about the case to contact investigators.
Police say Fontaine had run away several times in the last year but had always been located safely. They aren't releasing how she died or whether she was sexually assaulted.
Since the teen was under the care of Child and Family Services, her death is automatically being
reviewed by Manitoba's Office of the Children's Advocate.
"Tina must not disappear into the oblivion of statistics: almost 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women over the past three decades," David Langtry, acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said in a statement issued Tuesday.
"This is not acceptable in a country like Canada. It is time for a full public inquiry into the root causes of so many deaths and disappearances of aboriginal women and girls. It is time for a national action plan to confront this issue."
The Conservative government has refused to hold a national inquiry on the issue, despite calls from aboriginal leaders, provincial governments and other federal parties.
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Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who represents the Winnipeg riding of St. Boniface, said there have already been numerous studies on the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Glover, who is Métis and on leave from her job as a Winnipeg police officer, said victims' families have told her they want to know who is committing the crimes, which means giving police the resources they need to investigate.
"I've met with many of the families, they don't all agree with putting the money towards yet another study when there's already been 40."
The federal New Democrats said it's "unconscionable" for the Conservatives to ignore people's demands for an inquiry.
"The murder of Tina Fontaine is a national tragedy," said Churchill MP Niki Ashton, the NDP's critic for status of women, in a statement.
"There must be justice for this young woman and all missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Victims, families and communities deserve answers."
Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister, Eric Robinson, said his first thought when he heard about Tina's death was "not another one."
For two decades, Robinson said, he's been working with aboriginal families who have lost daughters, sisters, aunts and mothers.
"It just gets tiring after a while to see the suffering, the human suffering, and no answers coming to the families about what happened to their loved ones," Robinson told The Canadian Press.
"It's just saddening to see the families continue to suffer."
A national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is the only way many families will get the answers they deserve, Robinson suggested.
'Enough is enough,' says chief
Stan Beardy, Ontario regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper should listen to the growing calls for an inquiry.
"Enough is enough," Beardy stated in a news release.
"I am not sure who else besides the Conservative government doesn’t want a national inquiry. First Nation leaders and the premiers of the provinces in Canada unanimously back this call and the United Nations has called on Canada to support an inquiry. Why are Harper and the Conservatives not listening?"
Nahanni Fontaine, a special adviser on aboriginal women's issues with the Manitoba government, said Tina Fontaine's death is one in a long line of examples warranting a national inquiry.
"Here's an example, a prime example of why a national inquiry is much needed so we're not continuously sitting here, next year or a couple of years after that, having these same interviews," said Fontaine, who is not related to the victim.
"Of course, you're angry when a 15-year-old girl isn't safe," she said. "I think it's a normal response to such senseless and savage violence that's perpetrated against aboriginal women and girls."
In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. The report said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women's Association of Canada, called Fontaine's death shocking. She said it shows that no one is taking the safety of aboriginal women seriously.
The prime minister and other people in positions of power need to come out and state this has to stop, she said.
"We're not hearing that," Dumont-Smith said. "We're not seeing any change, any improvement in the situation. We are calling for a national public inquiry and we will continue to call for that.
"This just can't go on."
If there were nearly 1,200 women of any other ethnic origin who were missing or murdered, the reaction would be different, she said.
"There would be an outcry. There would be protests in the streets," she said.
"This is not an aboriginal issue. It's a Canadian issue. It's really a blemish on Canada that innocent lives are being taken now just about every month. What can a 15-year-old do to deserve that?"
Below is the full statement from David Langtry, acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission:
Once again our hearts are filled with grief and sadness as we mourn the brutal and senseless murder of an Aboriginal girl.
In a pattern that has tragically become commonplace, the body of Tina Fontaine was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg last Sunday, after being reported missing earlier this month.
Barely 15, Tina was reportedly in the care of Child and Family Services.
Tina must not disappear into the oblivion of statistics: almost 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women over the past three decades.
We have a duty to ensure she leaves a legacy, and that her legacy is to bring an end to the chronic cycle of violence that rips Aboriginal women and girls from the fabric of family and community at this alarming rate.
This is not acceptable in a country like Canada. It is time for a full public inquiry into the root causes of so many deaths and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls. It is time for a national action plan to confront this issue.
With files from The Canadian Press