Friday, August 22, 2014

Where's the outrage for Tina?

     There were no riots after Tina Fontaine's body was pulled out of the Red River in Winnipeg last Friday. It was news, all right, but the 15 year old's still-unsolved murder couldn't compete with Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown had been shot to death in a confrontation with a white police officer, sparking a wave of demonstrations and looting that attracted worldwide media attention because of the race relations narrative. 
     There's a racial angle to Tina Fontaine's story as well. She was one of 1200 Canadian First Nations girls and women who've been murdered or gone missing since 1980 - numbers completely out of proportion to their percentage of the population. Yet the Canadian media and public remain fixated on Ferguson, too busy jumping to conclusions about police brutality and racism in another country to pay much attention to a runaway native girl whose suffering at the hands of her killer or killers was apparently so unspeakable that police are reluctant to release information about how she died. 
     At a time when the police profession was being trashed for alleged insensitivity, it took a cop - Winnipeg Police Sgt. John O'Donovan - to point out that as a society, we'd be horrified by a litter of dead puppies or kittens, so we should be horrified at the discovery of a murdered child wrapped in a bag and dumped in a river. Sgt. O'Donovan's message resonated in Winnipeg, where hundreds of non-aboriginals were among a thousand people who turned out for a vigil for Tina. But people in the rest of the country were too caught up watching the non-stop Ferguson coverage or arguing on Twitter about Gaza to spare a thought for Tina Fontaine. 
     Manufactured sanctimony aside, there's nothing wrong with being informed and engaged on perceived outrages no matter where they happen. But mainstream Canadian media and hashtag activists clamoring for justice for Michael Brown would do well to acknowledge the racism and insensitivity that breed social injustice and tragedy in our own backyard. 

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