I’ve got three stories for you.
Fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine was reported missing on August 9, 2014. Fontaine, who was originally from the Sagkeeng First Nations in Manitoba, was living with Child and Family Services at the time of her disappearance. Five days later, her corpse was uncovered in a bag in Winnipeg’s Red River by police officers. Her body was found unexpectedly when officers were looking for another man who had been seen struggling in the water earlier in the day. Her death has been ruled a homicide, and on December 11, 2015, Winnipeg police announced that Raymond Cormier was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in her death. Her family is still without answers.
Sonya Cywink, a 31-year-old Ojibwa woman from Birch Island, Ontario, was last seen August 25, 1994 in London, Ontario. Five days later, her body was discovered in a wooded area at Southwold Earthworks, a historic park 50 km south of London. She had been beaten to death. The identity of the killer and their motive remains unknown. Her family is still without answers.
On the morning of May 6, 1978, 12-year-old Monica Jack of Aboriginal descent from Nikola Lake, B.C. got on her bike to go shopping with her cousin. When it was time to go home they parted ways, each going to their own house. Monica never arrived home. In June 1995, 17 years after she vanished, forestry workers came across some human remains. In February 1996, DNA testing matched the remains to Monica. On December 1, 2014, 68-year-old Gerry Handlen was arrested and charged with her murder. His motive is unknown. Her family is still without answers.
These incidents have a striking pattern: all three victims are female, indigenous, and were kidnapped and murdered by people whose motives are ambiguous. Unfortunately, this type of violence is all too common. Thousands of aboriginal females have become victims. Statistics Canada found that although aboriginal women comprise only four percent of Canada’s female population, 16 percent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were indigenous. These terrifying statistics demonstrate that this is no longer sporadic or coincidental. Rather, the scale and severity of brutality that this group of women faces constitutes a national human rights crisis.
Many activist groups have pressed the government to investigate the situation, but successive governments in the past have refused. Leaders from both the Conservative and Liberal parties have cast aside the issue, deeming it not of national importance. In an interview with CBC in 2014, when asked about considering at least some form of a formal inquest, Stephan Harper replied, “Um, it, it isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.” This is the shameful attitude that our government has held historically and because of it thousands of families have been living in agony waiting for justice, while more and more indigenous females are being targeted.
Fortunately, it seems as though the situation is changing. One of the first things that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did upon his victory to office was to address the relationship between the aboriginal community and the Canadian government. He acknowledged a history of abuse and neglect from the government’s side and has pledged to work towards full reconciliation, stating that one of his top priorities is to investigate the trend of missing and murdered indigenous women. Additionally, the government has pledged $100 billion in a three-year anti-violence program to support native families.
Although an inquiry cannot undo or restore what has been lost, it is a monumental step forward. Trudeau deserves much credit for his work in reversing past government’s failures, greenlighting the inquiry, and working towards a more inclusive and peaceful future. It must be understood that every single prime minister for the past half-century has promised to improve aboriginal grievances, yet each one has failed. So the question remains, will Trudeau be the one to break the cycle? It definitely seems like it.