The Tina Fontaine Trial – Your Answer is as good as mine

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

I listened to an Indigenous spokesperson interviewed on CBC Radio the day after the jury returned with acquittal in the Tina Fontaine murder trial. The spokesperson gave his opinion that this case is a symbol of the way our society does not seem to give the same value to the lives of Indigenous girls and women as it does to those of other women.

I think he is right.

Indigenous girls and women are much more likely to be the victims of abuse – – or murder – than are non-Indigenous females. In fact, Stats Canada says that Indigenous women are at triple the risk as non-Indigenous women of being the victims of homicide.

It is not hard to find examples of this in daily news reports. At any given time, there are a steady stream of cases making their way through the courts, involving Indigenous girls and women who have been victimized. Those cases are regarded as routine, and receive very little attention from the media, or Indigenous organizations. For all intents and purposes, they are ignored.

What makes the Tina Fontaine case so different? Why is it receiving such enormous press coverage? After all, the trial itself was not unusual. The Crown’s case was weak, and the jury included Indigenous people. The verdict had nothing to do with the racial background of the accused, or the deceased. Why do Indigenous organizations concentrate all their fire on this case, while ignoring the many other anonymous cases?

The answer is simple: Tina Fontaine’s alleged killer does not appear to be Indigenous.

That fact actually makes the case quite unusual. A well known RCMP report says that in the vast majority of cases of abused or murdered Indigenous girls and women, the abuser or killer is an Indigenous man whom was an acquaintance or a family member.

The same peculiar kind of bias is also evident at the MMIW Inquiry. There is an astounding expenditure of time and money spent on the examination of the tiny percentage of cases that involve a non-Indigenous perpetrator, while the overwhelming majority of cases in which the abuser or murderer is Indigenous get much less attention.

Why is this happening? Why are the chiefs’ organizations and Indigenous advocates focusing only on the small percentage of cases that involve a non-Indigenous perpetrator, while virtually ignoring the much more common cases involving an Indigenous perpetrator? (Or excusing the conduct of Indigenous abusers or murderers, by saying they are “victims of colonialism, or residential schools”, or some other excuse.) Why do the chiefs’ organizations and the MMIW seem to value the lives of Indigenous women who are victims of non-Indigenous men more than they value the lives of Indigenous women who are victims of their violent Indigenous partners or relatives?

And why is the mainstream media allowing itself to act as a willing partner in this deception?

Could it be that the media and the chiefs’ organizations want us to believe that the main culprit in the sad drama now playing out in this country is racism, when it is perhaps something else entirely?

Make no mistake: racism is real, and must be dealt with. But it is not the real villain of the piece. That villain is Canada’s dysfunctional reserve system – a system that has produced so many marginalized and vulnerable girls and women. That same reserve system has been built – and is being shamefully kept in place – by the few who profit from it. And by a weak federal government that allows this ongoing tragedy to continue on its watch.

So, why do the mainstream media, the chiefs, and the federal government play along with this fraudulent game?

Your answer is as good as mine.