Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

To stem violence, save the child

  • Print

Canada's premiers have an opportunity at their meeting today in Charlottetown to call the prime minister on the carpet for the risks faced by aboriginal girls and women in this country. They must demand Ottawa join them in devising an appropriate response to the problem, long overdue.

The murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg is a crime. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right on that. But Mr. Harper was embarrassingly wrong in his assertion Tina Fontaine's slaying was not part of a sociological phenomenon. Mr. Harper's desire to shift the focus to a criminological response is wrong. It won't work.

Tina Fontaine's killer must be caught and prosecuted. But courts and penitentiaries can't halt the violence plaguing aboriginal people -- men, women, children.

Aboriginal people are disproportionately victims and offenders. The daily assaults and the extraordinary, unspeakable acts of physical and sexual violence wreaked upon them are the end result of historical attacks against their culture, families and communities. This country has wielded social, political and economic policies like sledgehammers against its First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.

Made victims of their own government, they victimize their own.

Mr. Harper knows this. Yet he chose to disconnect Tina Fontaine's grisly death from the crippling dysfunction in aboriginal communities, bred by destructive policies and routine racism.

The premiers and leaders of the territories know this. In Charlottetown, they will discuss again the need for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, and the conditions that predispose them to risk. They should not, however, exploit the cause for a renewed demand for more money from the feds.

Many believe a national inquiry will give a forum for the stories that need to be told in a national awakening. But Canada could fill a library with the reports from inquiries, commissions and studies describing the factors that make First Nations people vulnerable to violence.

These problems are deep-seated, but they are not intractable. The answers, or at least steps towards solutions, have been laid out by those many commissions, inquiries and researchers. Aboriginal communities must take control of the education and corrections systems along with social services, including child welfare.

Ottawa's role is to transfer sufficient funding so band governments can invest in resources to meet the challenge. Provincial governments must ensure services off-reserve are also well-funded.

The devolution of child-welfare services to aboriginal agencies in Manitoba is a case study of what can happen when staff are ill-equipped to work on impoverished reserves with few social supports.

But there are models that are working. There are systems of healing that address endemic neglect and the physical and sexual abuse on reserves that lead to multi-generational poverty, mental illness, crime, poor health and early death.

Ottawa's own studies have confirmed the success, in Manitoba, of Hollow Water's Holistic Circle Healing Centre. The community's remarkable restorative justice system, which protects victims and addresses offenders, deserves to be backed up by increased, long-term funding. Nisichawayasihk's family services provide a community response when parents fail -- a guardian moves in with the children while the parent leaves to get help. The approach avoids unnecessary trauma to children. The incidence of FAS in the community has dropped.

Sociology 101: Early abuse and neglect damage children and create broken adults, who in turn can wreak havoc upon others, often their loved ones. The premiers cannot let Mr. Harper respond to the scourge of violence by, and against, aboriginal people with funding for more cops and jails. Canada must start on the necessary, difficult reparations required to restore aboriginal communities to health. The first step is to let the communities to design their own solutions.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2014 A8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Janice Filmon humbled to be appointed lieutenant-governor

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think of Manitoba Hydro's deal to create a surface-parking lot to allow for construction of a new substation?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google