Need for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada

COO Press Release

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy statement ON THE TRAGIC DEATH OF TINA FONTAINE AND THE PUSH FOR A NATIONAL INQUIRY INTO MURDERED, MISSING Aboriginal WOMEN

TORONTO, ON (AUGUST 19, 2014) - Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy is devastated by the news of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl found dead in the Red River Sunday and demands that federal government stand with all Canadians in their plea to launch a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada.

"Enough is enough." Regional Chief Beardy said. "Our condolences and our hearts go out to the family and community of young Tina Fontaine who was barely 15-years-old and was senselessly and brutally murdered. This is unacceptable in a country like Canada where we expect our children and our women to live without fear."

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, yet account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

"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?" Regional Chief Beardy said.

Numerous other civil society organizations both in Canada and internationally have done the same. A provincial working group and a federal special parliamentary committee have also been working to address violence against Aboriginal women but First Nations leaders say they are no substitute to an independent National Inquiry process which will hear directly from families and communities of victims and will lead to an examination of root causes and a national strategy. 

The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook or Twitter @ChiefsOfOntario.

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For more information, please contact:

Jamie Monastyrski, Communications

Phone: 807-630-7087 - Email: jamie.monastyrski@coo.org

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From CBC.ca

Thousands pack Tina Fontaine, Faron Hall vigil at Winnipeg's Oodena Circle

Vigil held in Winnipeg for 2 people pulled from Red River over the weekend

Posted: Aug 19, 2014 

RAW: Thousands of Winnipeggers come together for Tina Fontaine, Faron Hall vigil

RAW: Thousands of Winnipeggers come together for Tina Fontaine, Faron Hall vigil 1:07

Remembering Tina Fontaine

Remembering Tina Fontaine 2:29

Body of Tina Fontaine, 15, found in Red River

Body of Tina Fontaine, 15, found in Red River 1:28

Winnipeg's 'Homeless Hero' Faron Hall remembered

Winnipeg's 'homeless hero' Faron Hall remembered1:58

Tina Fontaine's family devastated by teen's death

Tina Fontaine's family devastated by teen's death2:10

 

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More than 1,000 people gathered at the Alexander Docks Tuesday night in Winnipeg to remember Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall, whose bodies were pulled from the Red River over the weekend.

  • Mourners hold candles at Oodena Circle at The Forks in Winnipeg, mourning the deaths of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall. Fontaine was killed, put in a bag and dumped in the Red River, according to police. Her body was discovered near the Alexander Docks on Sunday.

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Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9. Her body was recovered Sunday afternoon from the Red River near the Alexander Docks off Waterfront Drive.

Police said her body was wrapped in a bag and are treating the death as a homicide.

Hall's body was recovered from the Red River on Sunday evening near Kildonan Park, and police are not treating his death as suspicious.

On Tuesday, about 1,000 people gathered at the spot where Fontaine's body was recovered from the river.

The sound of drumming and people weeping filled the air near the dock. Leaders from Manitoba's aboriginal community attended, drum circles were held and visitors renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered women in Canada.

Many who had lost loved ones held signs pleading for answers. Wilfred Catcheway held a sign with a photo of his daughter Jennifer Catcheway, who went missing six years ago in Manitoba.

The group walked from the Alexander Docks to Portage Avenue and Main Street, filling the intersection with people and blocking it to traffic.

The group headed from there to The Forks to gather in Oodena Circle, where candles were lit for the vigil. More people joined them there, bringing the group's numbers up to about 2,000.

Fontaine had 'good plans,' family says

"There's no word that described what I felt when I heard they that had found her and that she wasn't alive anymore," Thelma Favel, Fontaine's great-aunt, told CBC News on Tuesday.

"Everything was just ripped right out of me. I just didn't want to live anymore."

Fontaine, who was from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was in the care of a Child and Family Services agency when she went missing, according to police. She had run away from her foster home before, including once in July of this year. 

Lana Fontaine, Tina's aunt, said her niece would go to her home whenever she ran away. But on Sunday, police officers appeared on her doorstep.

"They told me that they found her and it wasn't good," she said, sobbing. "I just knew in my heart she was gone."

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 Fontaine

Tina Fontaine is shown in this Facebook profile picture from January of this year. Her body was discovered in a bag in the Red River over the weekend. Winnipeg police believe she was killed. (Facebook)

‚ÄčLana Fontaine, who had last seen her niece a week before she disappeared, said Tina wanted to find a job and finish school.

"She had such good plans," she said.

"She was a beautiful, sweet girl, all she wanted was to live. Whoever did this to her, please come forward and let her rest."

Police said Fontaine's body was discovered while divers were searching for a man who had been seen struggling in the water near The Forks on Friday.

Hall remembered by family, friends and mayor

Hall earned the nickname of Winnipeg's "homeless hero" after saving people from drowning in the Red River on two occasions in 2009.

Police said they are not treating Hall's death as suspicious, and they did not release details about how he ended up in the water.

Hall's uncle, Patrick Hall, said any chance his nephew had to help someone in need, he'd take it.

"He didn't have [anything] to give anyone but he would offer his friendship, guidance, talk - he even risked his life to help someone in distress," he said. 

"He was very quiet, soft spoken. In my lifetime, I've never seen him to be mad at anyone."

hi-faron-hall-jail-110908

Faron Hall is shown in this 2011 photo. His body was recovered from the Red River this weekend, according to family.

Even though Faron was known as Winnipeg's "homeless hero," he didn't consider himself that way, his uncle said.

Mayor Sam Katz called Hall a selfless hero who deserved honour and a good life Tuesday. He taught people appearances can be deceiving and those with the least to give often give the most, Katz said.

The entire city of Winnipeg mourns his loss, said the mayor.

Hall's friend, Marion Willis, recalled him as a troubled man who battled alcohol addiction.

"The sad piece for me about Faron is that he had so much potential," said Willis. "He really could have done so much good - he did do a lot of good. He could have done so much better."

'We can begin to change,' says professor

Niigaan Sinclair, an aboriginal studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said community leaders quickly got together Monday night and decided something had to be done.

"It's very easy, but it's so endemic of a 150-year violent and abusive relationship that forms much of the basis of this country," said Sinclair.

Sinclair said the way to help solve the issues that lead to the deaths of Fontaine and Hall is as simple as viewing people as people.

"If we begin to see Faron and Tina as human beings - as daughters for all of us, as brothers for all of us - we can begin to change. We can begin to see that the North End is as much our community as the South End," he said.

"It's as simple as forming relationships with your neighbour, it's so simple," he added. "It's forming relationships with places that you might be taught to be scared of. It's forming relationships with ideas and values and cultures."

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From http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/8/21/femicides-disappearancesaboriginalwomencanada.html

Indigenous women's lives held cheap in Canada, say activists

Disproportionate number of female homicide victims and missing people in Canada are aboriginal

August 21, 2014 5:00AM ETby Benjamin Shingler   @benshingler

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Canada - It's not hard to pick out Bernice and Wilfred Catcheway's home.

Posters of their daughter, a dark-haired girl with a bright smile, are affixed to the back of their pickup truck and the aluminum siding of their small bungalow.

Jennifer Catcheway went missing on June 19, 2008. It was her 18th birthday.

She called home that morning at around 11 a.m. and told her mother she would be home for dinner.

"We were planning a barbecue," Bernice recalled recently at her home in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, a city of 13,000 surrounded by the canola fields of the Canadian prairie. "She wanted steak. She was specific on that."

Even then, Bernice knew something was wrong. Jennifer told her she was in a car with two men in a small town several hours north.

"I said, 'What are you doing out there? You come home this instant,'" Bernice said. "I felt such a pain in my stomach. Fear gripped me."

Jennifer Catcheway missing signJennifer Catcheway was last seen on her 18th birthday.Benjamin Shingler

It was the last time she spoke to her daughter. The police would eventually take the men in for questioning, but there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges.

Six years later, Catcheway's disappearance remains unsolved.

The case is part of an alarming trend in Canada.

Earlier this year, a report prepared by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found record of 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women from 1980 to 2012.

The RCMP report affirmed what many had long suspected: indigenous women "are over-represented among Canada's murdered and missing women."

The total was higher than previous independent estimates, and led to renewed calls for a national inquiry to determine the root causes of the problem. Activists argue the disproportionate number represents a failure by police and government to come up with a solution.

The media, as well, has been criticized for its role. A 2010 study found depictions of murdered aboriginal women were "more detached in tone" and less likely to appear on the front page than those of white women.

Beverly Jacobs, a lawyer, activist, and the former head of the Native Women's Association of Canada, has been trying to raise awareness about the problem for years.

"It's a crisis and it always has been," she said, blaming all levels of government, including indigenous leadership.

"The numbers indicate how critical an issue it is. The fact that indigenous women are being attacked - that's historical. This isn't a new issue. It's been happening since the beginning of colonization."

'We're all just people. We have families, we have a world, and we're not disposable.'

Bernadette Smith, aboriginal activist and educator

Canada's Conservative government has resisted calls for an inquiry. Andrew McGrath, a spokesman for the minister of status of women, says the government has taken steps to address the issue through a national DNA-based missing person's index and tougher laws against violent crimes.

"We've done countless studies, and even a parliamentary committee on this topic to help better understand this national tragedy," McGrath wrote in an email. "Now, we're interested in taking what we've learned and implementing immediate and concrete measures that will reduce violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls."

Still, tragic stories continue to play out across the country.

On Sunday, the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old indigenous girl, was pulled from a Winnipeg river. Police are calling the death a homicide. Fontaine had been living in foster care and had run away. A vigil was held in her honor on Tuesday.

David Langtry, acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, called for "a national action plan to confront this issue."

"This is not acceptable in a country like Canada," he said in a statement

Bernice and Wilfred CatchewayBernice and Wilfred Catcheway have spent the last six years searching for their missing daughter Jennifer.Benjamin Shingler

Manitoba, a prairie province with one of Canada's largest aboriginal populations, has some of the most troubling numbers.

From 1980 to 2012, nearly half (49 percent) of female homicide victims were aboriginal, according to the RCMP report. Aboriginal people comprise 16.7 percent of the population of Manitoba.

Bernadette Smith, a tall, strongly built woman with soft brown eyes, has become a leading voice among aboriginal activists in the province since her own sister, Claudette Osborne, went missing.

Osborne was 21 - three years older than Catcheway - when she disappeared on July 24, 2008.

The circumstances, however, were quite different. Osborne struggled with drug addiction and was involved in prostitution in a rough Winnipeg neighborhood, while Catcheway was living with her parents in a small town, and had plans to apply for her first full-time job.

But the families see a shared root cause  - a lack of respect for aboriginal women.

"We're all just people," Smith said recently, sitting by her backyard pool in Winnipeg, while her daughter splashed in the water. "We have families, we have a world, and we're not disposable."

Smith, an education consultant on aboriginal issues, has been pushing for better social programs geared toward at-risk women that would help them to break away from a cycle of drug addiction and violent relationships.

The RCMP report found that most of the homicides were "committed by men and most of the perpetrators knew their victims - whether as an acquaintance or a spouse." Twelve percent of the victims were involved in the sex trade.

Smith is optimistic. She said police and government have made strides since her sister went missing.

In recent years, there have been a number of new programs geared toward aboriginal women and youth. Organizations like Ka Ni Kanichihk, based in downtown Winnipeg, offer leadership workshops for aboriginal girls and young women.

There's also a police liaison who communicates with families, and an adviser on aboriginal women's issues in the provincial government.

"When my sister went missing there weren't any services," Smith said. "You were just given a number. And the media was horrible when she went missing - dismissing her as a drug-addicted sex worker."

"Women aren't just on the street because they want to be," she said. "They all have a story to tell."

Last December, Smith told her sister's story before a government committee on violence against aboriginal women.

She explained how Osborne had given birth to a baby girl two weeks before she went missing. Her daughter was taken from her by social services at the hospital.

Osborne had recently moved to a small town outside of Winnipeg with her partner and their son in the hopes of starting fresh, away from the lure of drugs and the sex work that paid for them.

She was enrolled at a drug treatment center and the couple hoped to eventually get their daughter back.

After being separated from her, though, Osborne returned to Winnipeg's north end, a neighborhood that has struggled with drugs and prostitution.

"The guilt was just too much," Smith said. "She'd gone back to the drugs, back to the street."

That night, Osborne called another sister, Tina, telling her she was with a truck driver and felt unsafe.

It was the last they heard from her. The family later discovered she had been at a hotel, but investigators didn't go there until 10 days after she disappeared. By then, Smith said, the hotel's video surveillance tape had been written over.

"The evidence was gone," she said.

Smith still wonders whether quicker action could have helped solve the case.

Cases involving aboriginal women, particularly those with a history of drugs and prostitution, don't get the same attention, she said.

Despite that, Smith isn't among those calling for an inquiry. She's skeptical it would solve the problem.

She recalled the inquiry into the serial killer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. It examined why police were so slow to respond to the disappearance of women - many of them aboriginal - in that area.

"Really not much has come of it and they've spent millions of dollars," she said. "It could be better used."

On the wall of the Catcheways' home, surrounded by a collage of photos of their other children, is a portrait of Jennifer alongside the words: "Forever missed but not forgotten."

While the RCMP say the case remains open, the Catcheways continue their own search. They devote all their free time and money toward the search for their daughter, including the profits from their annual fundraiser.

"I'm getting close to finding her, with or without the police," said Wilfred, Jennifer's father.  

Wilfred has a plastic bin full of newspaper clippings tracing developments since his daughter's disappearance, and a stack of documents he said offer clues.

"He's been collecting evidence," said Bernice, a Pentecostal minister. "He has his theory."

She holds out hope she and her husband will achieve closure by at least finding their daughter's remains.

"If anybody is going to bring her home, it's going to be her family," Bernice said.