Dr. Matthew Coon Come is Grand Chief of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee (Quebec), and former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
To say, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper did, that the murder of Tina Fontaine is a criminal matter and not a sociological one is like saying that an earthquake is a geological event and not a social one. It is obvious that any murder is a criminal matter, just as it is equally obvious that an earthquake is a geological event. What is important in these two kinds of events is how we, as a society, respond.
In the case of an earthquake, we as a society will immediately tend to the injured. We will review our emergency preparedness plans. We will review our building codes. We will review our insurance guidelines and alert systems etc. – all with the intention of mitigating the effects of the earthquake to the greatest degree possible in order to protect the public.
A recent RCMP report identified more than 1,000 aboriginal girls and women gone missing or murdered over the past few decades. Whenever there is a disproportionate targeting of a specific and identifiable sector of our population for rape, murder and sex trafficking, then it becomes a public and a national issue. What has happened to Tina and more than 1,000 women is not just an aboriginal issue; it’s an issue that all Canadians must take seriously and grapple with. As the police officer who found Tina’s body said: “Society should be horrified.”
If our federal government’s response to Tina and the rest of these women is to be founded on something other than the view that Indian, Inuit and Métis lives do not matter, then we must know why our sisters and daughters are being disproportionately targeted and we must develop a strategy for prevention. It is for this reason that we need a collective response. That response is the launching of a public inquiry. It is for purposes such as this that we elect public officials.
In times of national crisis, the usual provincial-federal bickering over respective responsibilities is put aside to ensure a timely and effective response. That’s what is needed now. The recent call by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, together with the premiers meeting in Charlottetown, is a useful suggestion. It could lead to immediate action by all levels of government, working in concert and based on our understanding to date.
However, a full public inquiry is still required. A public inquiry would provide us all with a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and a road map for ensuring that this stops. It is a public inquiry initiated by the federal government that carries with it the weight of legitimacy. It is with that legitimacy that accountability also follows. We would have a set of recommendations by which to measure the government’s commitment to addressing the fundamental causes of the disappearance and murder of aboriginal women.
This is a national crisis that cries out for an informed and aggressive national response.
What will it take to do the right thing? How many more of our women must die unnecessarily before this issue receives the proper national attention it merits? How many of our young people will it take to fill the streets of our cities before we realize that Tina’s murder is not just a criminal matter? What kind of earthquake are we waiting for?