Racism, sexism, and indifference

From Helen Betty Osborne to Tina Fontaine, Canada has been a deadly place for Indigenous youth but remarkably safe for the killers

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 22, 2018 • Current Affairshelen-betty-osborne

TINA FONTAINE WAS A CHILD OF FIFTEEN when her body was found in a duvet cover, loaded with rocks, at the bottom of the Red River. That was August 2014.

In October police arrested Raymond Cormier, and at the end of 2015, over a year later, he was charged with second-degree murder. Winnipeg police spent six months recording their conversations with Cormier, secretly and under plainclothes, hoping to get useful information, perhaps even a confession.

The transcripts of these ramblings—there’s perhaps no better word for it—are at times opaque and contradictory. Cormier says he did and didn’t kill Tina Fontaine, and that he did and didn’t have sex with her. Statements are incomplete, some inaudible. After eleven hours of jury deliberation, Cormier was acquitted. Counsel for the defence presented no evidence and the accused did not testify. The burden of proof was entirely upon the prosecution, as is the case under common law, and it was a burden they did not carry.

Tina Fontaine was cast into a river, which is a nice way of saying disposed of, tossed, thrown away like garbage. It happens all the time in Canada. Causes of Indigenous deaths are declared unknown and unknowable, investigations are not started or they are soon abandoned, and in rare cases where there are suspects and charges, the accused are exonerated. The courtroom clears, making way for the summary consideration of the next dead child and the next acquittal, and then the next, and the next after that, and.

Child and Family services found Tina Fontaine on the ground, sleeping behind the Helen Betty Osborne Centre. This is something a novelist might come up, but it’s reality, not fiction. Helen Betty Osborne was abducted and murdered at 19, in 1971, and three of the four men involved in her death were never found guilty of a crime. Dwayne Johnston alone was delivered a lifetime of imprisonment, sixteen years after the fact, in 1987. The death of Helen Betty Osborne led to the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba. And the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission determined that racism, sexism, and indifference were the principal factors behind the length of time between Helen Betty Osborne’s death and a determination of guilt. And the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission made many recommendations, not only pertaining to justice but to the child and family welfare system, that remain unfulfilled aspirations.

And Murray Sinclair left the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission to later join the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and to study once again the systemic realities contributing to so much Indigenous death and misery. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada made 94 recommendations and soon the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry will make more and