Winnipeg's murdered women deserve task force, say aboriginal groups

Aboriginal groups in Manitoba are calling on the province to set up a task force to examine the cases of missing and murdered women in Manitoba.

19 unsolved sex-trade killings on books, say police

Aboriginal groups in Manitoba are calling on the province to set up a task force to examine the cases of missing and murdered women in Manitoba.

Nahanni Fontaine, director of justice for the Southern Chiefs Organization, made the call at a press conference Wednesday, days after the body of Fonessa Bruyere, 17, was found in a field in northwest Winnipeg.

Bruyere was last seen on the morning of Aug. 9 getting into a car on Aikens Street near Selkirk Avenue, where she worked in the sex trade.

Members of Bruyere's family spoke briefly atthe press conference to express disappointment in the police response when they reported Fonessa missing.

"Police were notified but we were greeted with indignance and disrespect to the extent that her grandmother was refused an incident number after reporting her missing," said Carla Bruyere, Fonessa's aunt.

The family took on the search themselves with the help of Child Find Manitoba and an aboriginal organization.

"We distributed more than 100 posters to try to locate her," she said, breaking down in tears.

"We also made attempts to contact the press to get her picture out there as a missing child, but there was no interest at the time."

'Find our missing youth'

Fontaine said Bruyere's story is not new; she said she knew ofdozens ofcases of missing orkilled aboriginal women in the past two decades that had not been solved.

Shecalled on the Winnipeg police and Manitoba government to establish a special task force to investigate missing and murdered sex trade workers, similar to task forces in Edmonton and Vancouver.

"You didn't do it in B.C, [and] you had 60 missing women by the time they got their stuff together. Are we going to wait until 60 women go missing?" she said.

'If you can't find our missing youth, find the people that arestealing them.'— Nahanni Fontaine

Fontaine's call was supported by two other aboriginal organizations, the Mothers of Red Nations and Sisters in Spirit's Winnipeg chapter.

Fontaine also wants the city to beef up its missing persons unit, saying the four people who are assigned to the 60 to 150 cases of missing people each year aren't enough.

"I think that they need to pour more resources into that unit and maybe perhaps take it away from some of the other programming that they've got, [like] Operation Clean Sweep, where you're just putting all of our people in jail," Fontaine said, referring to a police program targeting street crime in inner-city neighbourhoods.

"Apply some real resources and find our missing youth and if you can't find our missing youth, find the people that are stealing them. Find the people that are murdering them. Find the people that are raping and mutilating them."

19 unsolved sex-trade killings, say police

Winnipeg police say they did start an investigation when Bruyere disappeared, but they described her as a chronic missing person.

DennisonconfirmedWednesday that Winnipeg Police had 19 unsolved cases involving suspected sex-trade workers —17 women and two transgendered men — who had been victims of homicides on the books over the past 25 years.

The force is already doing many of the same things other special task forces are doing, Dennison said, they just don't have aspecial name for their efforts.

"We're going to collect all evidence possible and go where that evidence leads us," he said.

"At this point in time, as I had said yesterday, the evidence that has been collected recently and in the past doesn't lead investigators to believe that these homicides were committed by one specific individual."

Police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Dennisonsaid Tuesday that it can be a challenge for police to investigate cases involving sex-trade workers, noting they don't live a "nine-to-five lifestyle" and sometimes don't contact family and friends for long periods of time.