PM under fire as slain teen Tina Fontaine laid to rest
Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to draw fire for his stance on Canada's missing aboriginal women Saturday, even as mourners in Winnipeg attended the funeral for slain aboriginal teenager Tina Fontaine.
On Saturday, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the PM's refusal to launch a federal inquiry into Canada's cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women will put him on "the wrong side of history." Trudeau also accused Harper of being out of touch with Canadians on the issue.
In Winnipeg, friends and family gathered Saturday at a Manitoba First Nations community for the funeral of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old teenager whose body was found on Aug. 17, wrapped in a bag and dumped in Winnipeg's Red River. Police are treating her death as a homicide.
Mourners held a service for the slain teen at the Sagkeeng First Nation on Saturday afternoon. Fontaine’s family says her body will be cremated and her ashes will be spread over the grave of her father, who was murdered four years ago.
Police have not come forward with any new information in the Fontaine case, but the investigation continued through much of this week.
Fontaine’s death has sparked fresh calls for an inquiry into the nation's missing and murdered aboriginal women.
"We need to understand that this goes beyond a single crime, as horrible as that crime was," Trudeau told reporters at a campaign event in Moncton, N.B. on Saturday. "This has been a pattern that Canada needs to address."
Fontaine’s grandfather, Joseph Favel, said he hopes her death can get the country’s attention about the aboriginal community’s missing and murdered women.
“I’m just so proud that everybody in the world is seeing this,” Favel told CTV News ahead of the funeral.
In a statistical breakdown issued last May, the RCMP estimated that there have been about 1,181 cases of missing aboriginal women since 1980. While aboriginal women make up about 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, they account for approximately 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women, the RCMP said.
But the federal Conservatives have rejected calls for an inquiry, stating that they prefer that the issue be addressed in other ways, including through aboriginal justice programs and the establishment of a national missing person's DNA index.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was important to remember that cases of missing aboriginal women are crimes that should be investigated by police, and not a national inquiry.
"We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon," Harper said from Whitehorse. "We should view it as a crime. It is a crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."
Trudeau said Fontaine’s death is not an isolated crime, and the overall trend warrants a national inquiry. "There's no question that there's a criminal issue here. A horrible crime was committed. But it's part of a pattern that has gone on for years," he said.
Trudeau isn't the first to criticize Harper on the issue. On Friday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the prime minister's stance was "outrageous."
For Stephen Harper to say that there's not a systemic aspect to this, I think is just – I think it's outrageous, quite frankly," Wynne told the Canadian Press.
Wynne said she believes there should be a national discussion about the issue, with Harper participating in the talks.
Two years ago, the government of British Columbia released its own missing-women inquiry.
Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal headed up the provincial inquiry, and says he's disappointed more action hasn't been taken on the matter.
"I think that we have to start making those recommendations real," Oppal said.
Manitoba premier slams PM
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger also slammed Harper on Friday for refusing to launch a national inquiry into the plight of aboriginal women.
Last year, Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders endorsed calls for a public inquiry at their annual premiers’ conference. The premiers will gather for this year’s conference next week in Charlottetown, where they will speak with aboriginal leaders, Wynne said.
Fontaine had been living in Winnipeg for less than a month before she ran away from foster care. Police say she was last seen in downtown Winnipeg on Aug. 8.
Her grandmother, Thelma Favel, said her granddaughter was a happy child who had struggled with the violent death of her father four years ago.
“The last two months of her life were hard,” she told CTV News. “I just want to make her journey home a good one.”
With files from The Canadian Press