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Rights + Justice

Why Does Harper Keep Spinning Our Missing Women Tragedy?

Death of Tina Fontaine in Manitoba is only the latest example.

Devon Black 27 Aug 2014iPolitics

Devon Black is studying law at the University of Victoria. In addition to writing for iPolitics, Devon has worked for the Canadian International Development Agency, Leadership Africa USA and RamRais & Partners.

This article is republished with the permission of iPolitics.

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Tina Fontaine, a young aboriginal woman, was killed in Red River earlier this month.

When it comes to the death of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old aboriginal girl found dead in the Red River earlier this month, Prime Minister Harper says, "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."

Why is that exactly?

Is it because if Tina Fontaine's death is a crime, then we can treat it as an isolated incident?

If our prime minister is shirking from placing Tina Fontaine's death in its proper context, it must be because that context paints such a brutal -- and unflattering -- portrait of our government's inaction on the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

According to an RCMP report released earlier this year, nearly 1,200 aboriginal women and girls have died or gone missing over the last 30 years. Only 4.3 per cent of Canada's women are aboriginal, and yet they account for 16 per cent of female homicides. Aboriginal women are seven times more likely than non-aboriginal women to be murdered.

If our prime minister genuinely thinks this doesn't constitute a sociological phenomenon, then someone in his office needs to point him towards a dictionary.

But to be fair to Harper, the phrase "sociological phenomenon" doesn't do justice to the level of violence that aboriginal women and girls experience in our country. For the friends and family of the increasing number of victims, it's an unspeakable tragedy. For aboriginal communities trying to cope with the loss of too many women and girls, it's a crisis.

There have been at least 29 official reports and inquiries hoping to address various aspects of this crisis since 1996, and over 500 recommendations. One of the recommendations made most consistently, by the broadest range of voices, is that we need a national public inquiry into this issue.

A national public inquiry would finally allow for a comprehensive investigation into the causes underlying this pattern of murders and disappearances. It would permit an investigation that covers all provinces and territories, at all levels of government. And it would be a high-profile acknowledgement that, after decades of silence, our government is finally willing to work with aboriginal Canadians to begin solving the problem of violence against aboriginal women.

Instead, the Conservatives have avoided meaningful engagement with Canada's aboriginal communities at all costs. Rather than make the most of opportunities to work together, they've turned them into opportunities to spout more political talking points.

Meddling and spin

Take the Special Committee Report on Violence Against Indigenous Women that Parliament released earlier this year. Of the 16 recommendations in that report, about a third of them are blatant insertions of Conservative policies, with little or no relationship to the actual witness testimony summarized in the report. And while a draft initially recommended a national inquiry, that recommendation was conspicuously absent from the final document.

It's no wonder opposition MPs raised questions about whether the report was subject to improper political influence.

Conservative spin isn't limited to reports, either. Just before Harper told Canadians not to view Tina Fontaine's death as part of a sociological phenomenon of violence again aboriginal women, he referenced this year's RCMP study on the subject.

Of course, Harper didn't point out that the RCMP confirmed a higher number of victims than almost anyone had anticipated. Nor did he mention the RCMP's finding that aboriginal women are subject to a disproportionately high risk of violence.

Instead, Harper chose to emphasize that "the vast majority of these cases are addressed, and they're solved through police investigations."

By "these cases," he means the more than 1,000 murdered aboriginal women since 1980. That these cases are being solved isn't something to be lauded -- it's the absolute minimum we should expect from our police. These cases shouldn't need solving, because we should be making sure aboriginal women and girls aren't murdered in the first place.

It's a crime

Tina Fontaine's death is a crime. Hopefully, the police investigation will find who killed her and bring them to justice.

But it's because her death is a crime that it cannot be separated from the history of violence against aboriginal women and girls in this country.

No matter how much our prime minister might try to manipulate this tragedy, the facts are too obvious for anyone to miss. Tina Fontaine is the latest name on a list that is already far too long. But rather than confront that tragedy, and take real steps to make aboriginal women and girls safer, Harper is hiding behind political spin.

That level of moral bankruptcy would be disgraceful in anyone -- but from our country's leader, it's unforgivable. The tragedy of violence against aboriginal women and girls in this country has gone on for far too long.

Canadians deserve a leader who will take responsibility for our country's history, and take the difficult steps that will make a better future.  [Tyee]

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