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Selinger seethes over Harper's comment; says teen's slaying is 'not just a crime'

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Premier Greg Selinger acknowledged many people don't support an inquiry into missing, slain women because they don't know how it will help .

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Premier Greg Selinger acknowledged many people don't support an inquiry into missing, slain women because they don't know how it will help .

OTTAWA -- Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger was seething Friday over comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissing any suggestion the slaying of a Manitoba teenager indicates a wider social ill.

Selinger, speaking to the Free Press, didn't wait to be asked about the comments before he launched into a short and icy response to what Harper said.

"It's not just a crime," said Selinger of the prime minister's comments, aimed at deflecting continued calls for a national inquiry into the high number of aboriginal women killed or missing.

"It's a situation that speaks to who we are as citizens and how we treat each other," Selinger said. Addressing reporters during a stop on his Arctic tour, Harper called Fontaine's killing a "terrible crime."

"Clearly a crime, but first and foremost it is a crime. And the most important thing is to make sure we have a thorough police investigation.

"I think we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon."

Selinger heads to Prince Edward Island next week for the annual summer gathering of Canada's premiers, where a national inquiry will be discussed.

For six months, Selinger has sought agreement from other premiers to put on the agenda the high number of aboriginal kids who end up in the care of child welfare agencies.

He said violence against aboriginal women, and the high number of aboriginal kids who end up in care, are part of the same problem.

"These things are linked," he said.

Fontaine was in foster care at the time of her death. Her aunt sought a voluntary placement after Fontaine became a chronic runaway and her family could not get her counselling to deal with grief over the beating death of her father nearly three years ago.

Fontaine went into care in July, she went missing Aug. 8 and her body was pulled from the Red River Sunday.

Her name is the latest on a long list of slain or missing aboriginal women and girls.

A recent analysis by a University of Ottawa researcher documented more than 800 cases nationwide since 1960, 111 of them in Manitoba.

Various groups have pushed for a national inquiry to pin down the reason so many First Nations women are victims of violence. Harper has repeatedly denied their demand.

Last year, the premiers unanimously agreed an inquiry is necessary. Selinger said Harper is offside with how Canadians feel about the situation.

"Most Canadians believe vulnerable people of any kind should be protected," he said.

Selinger acknowledged many are uncertain how an inquiry would help, especially since previous inquiries have produced hundreds of recommendations that go nowhere.

"The inquiry should focus on solutions, where resources should be allocated," he said.

There is a need to find national solutions "so people are not out on the streets on their own like (Fontaine) was," Selinger said.

Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak is perturbed Selinger denied his request for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the province of Manitoba to work together on a strategy looking at both slain and missing women and CFS issues.

Nepinak said the province obviously wants to look at them at a national level, not a regional one.

Selinger said no province is immune to the problems and believes a national response is required.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 A7

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