It's fitting that an arrest in the murder of Tina Fontaine occurred the same week the federal government launched the initial phase of a national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women. The two are inextricably linked.
While there were calls for such a commission in the past, it was the grim, senseless death of the quiet 15-year-old First Nation teenager from Manitoba that jolted us from our national apathy toward the plight of aboriginal women and made the issue a political prerogative.
While there is still a trial to take place, the arrest of 53-year-old Raymond Cormier on second-degree murder charges comes as some relief to Tina's family, which has struggled to come to terms with what happened to the girl 16 months ago. While a conviction would allow the family to let go of anger and worry that was an inevitable extension of living with the knowledge Tina's killer was still on the loose, it will never completely heal from this tragedy.
There is likely relief inside the Winnipeg police force today as well. Witnesses in these types of cases where the victim spent her last days living on the street can often be hard to find. Because of the national significance that Tina's killing took on, there was even greater pressure on the department to solve this crime. And then there is the not insignificant matter of how the police department initially responded when Tina first vanished, which was, in a word, pathetic. The widespread criticism the force took for it was entirely justified.
While we all might celebrate the fact that Tina's killer may, in fact, be caught and could one day be in prison for the rest of his life, the underlying factors present in the teenager's disappearance and murder persist. And that is not something of which any of us can be proud. Nor can we can assume that a national inquiry alone is going to solve the many problems that endure among our indigenous population.
We may, however, have reached a critical point as a nation in coming to terms with one of the most vexing issues of our time. We seem to understand, finally, that we can't continue to allow the lifeless forms of our aboriginal daughters and mothers to be dredged from rivers or found dumped in the woods somewhere; that this is a stain upon this great country that has been allowed to endure for far too long.
Changes have already begun that could help mitigate some of the carnage we have witnessed over the years, changes that have come from public pressure. The government of Manitoba, for instance, has pledged to stop using rented hotel rooms to place foster children on an emergency basis. It was from one of those places that Tina easily drifted to the streets and into the hands of her killer. But we all know this is only one small measure that will not halt, to any great degree, the murderous trap to which indigenous women continue to fall prey. No, if we want to get to the root causes of this phenomenon, then we need to start addressing myriad issues, including the fact that in Canada, aboriginal children are grossly overrepresented among wards of the state. To a large extent, the problem we are facing here is one that begins in our First Nations communities, and fixing it will require more than just money and the earnest words of our national leaders at a government inquiry.
It will take enormous hard work and goodwill to restore the broken trust that exists between government at all levels in this country and our native populations. Blaming decisions made by others decades ago will not rectify the horrid situation that exists in too many of our First Nations homes today. There will need to be some frank, and difficult, conversations with many people and institutions that will be resistant to the message. But that's the only way this situation begins to get remedied.
If we truly want to honour the life of Tina Fontaine, and ensure her name is remembered for more than simply the fate she met at the hands of a despicable person, then this is how we do it.