Canada's 'femicide epidemic' brings calls for inquiry

In the province of Manitoba, half of female murder victims are aboriginal

When the body of 15-year-old Native Canadian Tina Fontaine was discovered by the docks in Winnipeg last Sunday, nobody was surprised. In the province of Manitoba, almost half of all women murdered since 1980 have been aboriginal.

Campaigners have described Ms Fontaine's death as symptomatic of an ongoing "undercurrent of racism and sexism". Oxfam Canada has said that she is just one casualty of an "epidemic of femicide".

Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister, Eric Robinson, told the Canadian Press that when he heard about Ms Fontaine's murder, his first thought was "not another one". In May, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report revealed that although aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the national population, they account for 16 per cent of female murder victims and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

The First Nation community is calling for a national inquiry into violence against aboriginal women in Canada, a request that has previously been dismissed by the current Conservative government.

"Aboriginal women here in Manitoba are vulnerable," said Trudy Lavallee, executive director of Ikwe Widdjiitiwin, a crisis shelter in Winnipeg for aboriginal women at risk of violence. "There are elements of racism. There is an element of devaluing them, and aboriginal women are highest at risk of a huge number of social problems like addiction, poverty and homelessness."

Tina Fontaine spent the past 11 years being raised by her aunt in the Sagkeeng First Nation, but was placed in the custody of child and family services in Winnipeg a month before she went missing in August.

A week before the discovery of Fontaine's body, the remains of 26-year-old aboriginal woman Samantha Paul were identified near Kamloops, British Columbia. Last month, Marlene Bird, 47, needed facial reconstruction and the amputation of her lower legs after an attack in Saskatchewan.

Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said that the Conservative government has failed to act because of an "undercurrent of racism and sexism". "If this number of women of any other group were murdered in the same time span and in such gruesome circumstances, there would be a public outcry," she said.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed the possibility of a national inquiry. "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon," he said on Thursday. "It is crime, against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."

Oxfam Canada's Robert Fox added: "Canada is a diverse, multicultural country but we still haven't dealt with the legacy of colonialism. You judge a country by how it treats its most vulnerable, and by that measure Canada clearly falls far short."

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