Calls are being renewed for a national inquiry into the vulnerability of aboriginal women to violence in the wake of the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Sunday.
Fontaine’s death, which has been ruled a homicide, comes just a few days after formal identification of the remains of Samantha Paul of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Band in British Columbia, hundreds of miles away. Paul, 25 when she went missing in September 2013, was found on June 1 near Kamloops First Nation by some ATV riders, according to CBC News. Although a cause of death has not yet been determined, her family believes she was murdered and is calling for an investigation.
Winnipeg is suffering a double blow, as the body of Faron Hall, a homeless man and a member of Dakota Tipi First Nation, was pulled from the Red River on the same day as Tina. It was the same river that Hall had rescued two people from in 2009, earning the nickname the Homeless Hero, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.
On Friday August 15 an off-duty police officer saw the man who turned out to be Hall in distress in the river and directed a water taxi to where he was. As the boat’s captain tried to pull the man from the water, he himself suffered a heart attack, CBC News reported. By then, rescue crews had arrived, and the search continued until Hall was found on Sunday. The boat captain was hospitalized and is recovering.
Hall, who had alcoholism, himself was no stranger to violence against aboriginal women. His mother had been murdered 10 years earlier and his sister was stabbed three years ago, the Winnipeg Free Press said.
Fontaine had last been seen in downtown Winnipeg on August 8, wearing a white skirt, blue jacket and pink-and-white runners, CBC News said, adding that the diminutive teen was five-feet-three-inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds. She had been living in foster care and had run away, the Canadian Press reported.
A vigil is being held at the Alexander Docks, where both Fontaine and Hall were pulled out from, on the Red River at 7 p.m. local time.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and other indigenous leaders called once again for a national inquiry into why this happens all too often to Native women.
“This tragic incident is yet another stark reminder of the urgent need for action to ensure safety and security for all indigenous women and girls,” said AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, who oversees the portfolio on missing and murdered aboriginal women, in a statement after Paul’s remains were found. “We are calling for immediate action to prevent any further tragedies as well as a national public commission of inquiry to look into root causes and long-term efforts. The federal government has offered no clear or defensible rationale for its refusal to establish an inquiry. We know Canadians stand with us when we say that no other family, individual or community should have to experience this kind of loss.”
Meanwhile the homicide investigation is in full swing in Fontaine’s death. Police are holding back many details, including how she died, pending the outcome.
“At 15, I’m sure she didn’t realize the danger that she was putting herself in,” said O’Donovan at a news conference, according to the Canadian Press. “She’s a child. This is a child that’s been murdered. Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified.”