To Stem Violence, Save the Child

Article excerpt

Canada's premiers have an opportunity at their meeting today in Charlottetown to call the prime minister on the carpet for the risks faced by aboriginal girls and women in this country. They must demand Ottawa join them in devising an appropriate response to the problem, long overdue.

The murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg is a crime. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right on that. But Mr. Harper was embarrassingly wrong in his assertion Tina Fontaine's slaying was not part of a sociological phenomenon. Mr. Harper's desire to shift the focus to a criminological response is wrong. It won't work.

Tina Fontaine's killer must be caught and prosecuted. But courts and penitentiaries can't halt the violence plaguing aboriginal people -- men, women, children.

Aboriginal people are disproportionately victims and offenders. The daily assaults and the extraordinary, unspeakable acts of physical and sexual violence wreaked upon them are the end result of historical attacks against their culture, families and communities. This country has wielded social, political and economic policies like sledgehammers against its First Nation, Metis and Inuit people.

Made victims of their own government, they victimize their own.

Mr. Harper knows this. Yet he chose to disconnect Tina Fontaine's grisly death from the crippling dysfunction in aboriginal communities, bred by destructive policies and routine racism.

The premiers and leaders of the territories know this. In Charlottetown, they will discuss again the need for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, and the conditions that predispose them to risk. They should not, however, exploit the cause for a renewed demand for more money from the feds.

Many believe a national inquiry will give a forum for the stories that need to be told in a national awakening. But Canada could fill a library with the reports from inquiries, commissions and studies describing the factors that make First Nations people vulnerable to violence. …