Police weren't looking for Tina Fontaine when she was pulled from the Red River, but still the victim-blaming ensued
On August 9, Tina Fontaine was reported missing. But it wasn’t until August 17, when Winnipeg police were attempting to find the body of a missing indigenous man, that they pulled Fontaine’s body from the Red River. To put it bluntly, the police found Fontaine by chance.
At the press conference announcing their discovery, Winnipeg homicide investigator Sergeant John O’Donovan highlighted the fact that the 15-year-old had been a frequent runaway from foster care.
Police have released few details, but in an interview with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, police said they were aware of Fontaine’s background, family and the details of her life. She had been put in foster care after living with an aunt because she was having trouble dealing with the murder of her father. She wanted to live with her mother. There were inadequate services to help her. She frequently ran away. This wasn’t the first time she’d been reported missing.
Fontaine’s murder has rightly reignited calls for a federal public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. How many more indigenous women’s and girls’ bodies do police have to discover by chance in rivers, forests, parks and farms before the government begins to show an ounce of interest in our lives?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on his annual tour of the North, was posed essentially that question when asked to comment on Fontaine’s death last week.
Harper replied, “We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”
Harper might be correct if he were talking solely about the legal definition of “crime,” a prohibited conduct subject to penal sanction.
But according to the RCMP, Indigenous women and girls are being disproportionately murdered. So this issue is a social phenomenon.
Provincial and territorial leaders also urged a public inquiry last year. But Harper chooses to ignore these pleas.
The PM says his government has enacted laws that “are having more effect, in terms of crimes of violence against not just aboriginal women, but women and persons more generally.”
Some of these laws include Ending House Arrest For Property And Other Serious Crimes, Targeting Serious Drug Crime, and Protecting Canadians From Violent And Repeat Young Offenders, all sections of the so-called Safe Streets & Communities Act.
“Safe streets” and “safe communities” are misnomers. Canadian streets and communities are not safe for girls like Fontaine or the other thousand-plus missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Harper states that he’s doing everything for women and girls across Canada, and not just for indigenous women and girls, and remains “committed to that course of action.”
He says a national missing persons DNA index is a commitment to action. He says he remains committed to protecting the exploited through various human trafficking initiatives, including Bill C-36, the Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act.
I find it difficult to believe that Bill C-36 will protect the exploited or protect children’s innocence, as the government suggests. Fontaine’s body was discovered by accident, but murder is no accident. The police say she was exploited, but she was put in a vulnerable position by being displaced from her family.
For indigenous women and girls, going missing and being murdered is systemic. When police say a murder victim engaged in a risky or dangerous activity that contributed to their outcome, that is victim-blaming. We should not be allowing anyone, particularly the police, to condemn the missing and murdered.
As a young indigenous woman, I am more likely to go missing or be murdered simply for being young, indigenous and female. I am also a former sex worker. I can only imagine the headlines.
1,017 Number of aboriginal women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012
327 Total number of aboriginal women victims of murder reported by the RCMP to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in September 2013. The RCMP says that number was smaller “because they focused solely on RCMP jurisdictions and spanned a relatively short period of time.”
164 Number of aboriginal women reported missing between 1980 and 2012. The real number is likely higher, since the stat only includes women missing at least 30 days.
225 Number of unsolved cases of missing or murdered women
16 Percentage of women victims of murder who were aboriginal. Aboriginal women are roughly four times more likely to be victims of murder than non-aboriginal women.
8 Percentage of female victims of murder who were aboriginal in 1984
23 Percentage of female victims of murder who were aboriginal in 2012
12 Percentage of aboriginal women victims of murder from 1991 to 2012 who were likely involved in the sex trade. That’s versus 5 per cent of non-aboriginal women. The RCMP notes that the proportion for both is relatively small and that “it would be inappropriate to suggest any significant difference in the prevalence of sex trade workers among aboriginal female homicide victims as compared to non-aboriginal homicide victims.”
From the May 2014 RCMP report Missing And Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview
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