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We Must All Demand Justice for Tina Fontaine

09/06/2014 11:31 EDT | Updated 11/06/2014 05:59 EST
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If I were to walk down the street and ask the average person: "Do you think one Canadian's life is worth more than another?", I'm pretty sure the universal response would be, "No, absolutely not."

Canadians believe in fairness and equity. These are values that run so deep as to be woven into the fabric of our national identity.

There is, however, at least one Canadian who does not believe in this fundamental sense of equity.

Are they some vile white supremacist, spewing hate-filled garbage about "lesser races"? Perhaps they are a radical religious leader preaching homophobia and other forms of discrimination from the pulpit?

No, unfortunately neither of those guesses is correct. The person I'm talking about is none other than our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

On August 17, the body of a First Nations girl was dragged out of the Red River in Manitoba. The young woman's name was Tina Fontaine; she was 15 years old. Let that sink in for a moment -- Tina Fontaine, whose body was dragged out of a river, was only a teenager.

Tragic doesn't even begin to describe the reality of what happened to Tina Fontaine. While no arrests have been made, police are treating Tina's death as a homicide.

Sadly, Tina's story is not an anomaly, though it certainly should be.

In the last 30 years, roughly 1,200 First Nations women have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada. First Nations women are three-times more likely to experience violent victimization than non-aboriginal women in Canada.

Speaking about those numbers, acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission David Langtry has said "this is not acceptable in a country like Canada," and is calling for a full public inquiry into the issue, along with First Nations leaders, human rights activists, and various premiers.

The issue is staring our Prime Minister square in the face and a just and equitable solution is being proposed from all sides. And yet, Harper has waived off the need for a national inquiry, claiming that his government intends to treat Fontaine's death as a crime and not a "sociological phenomenon."

In reality, the Harper government prefers not to address the deaths of Tina Fontaine and 1,200 other First Nations women at all. Their steadfast determination not to "commit sociology" appears to include a refusal give in to a few other things, like empathy, compassion, and justice.

Let us call this what it is: a callous and disturbing disregard for human life. It is disgusting, disappointing, and wholly unacceptable. We must not stand by while our Prime Minister and government engage in a dismissal that is at complete odds with our values as Canadians.

Let us also not mince words about the fact that if we were facing a rash of violent crimes perpetuated against non-aboriginal women, we would not need to call for a public inquiry. We wouldn't need to push this government to do the right thing -- they would have beaten us to the punch long ago.

Without getting into mudslinging, I think we can all agree that this situation is wrong and needs to change. Stephen Harper's unwillingness to launch a public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered First Nations women is fundamentally tied to his government systemic mistreatment of our country's indigenous peoples.

As a Cree proverb reminds us, "Realize that we as human beings have been put on this earth for only a short time and that we must use this time to gain wisdom, knowledge, respect and the understanding for all human beings since we are all relatives."

I didn't know Tina Fontaine, but her death weighs upon me. I might not have known any of the 1,200 other First Nations women who have been murdered or gone missing over the past 30 years, but their stories matter -- they deserve our attention and they deserve justice.

We must keep this issue in the public eye or else Mr. Harper will continue to sweep it and his government's responsibility under the rug. One voice in the wilderness goes unheard, but together we can be the calling to bring justice to these murdered and missing women.

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