Rulings on the murders of Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie prove Canada’s reconciliation fallacy
Leah Scheitel // Copy Editor
Canada has an ugly history when it comes to Indigenous Peoples. Our national shame has been, and likely always will be, the treatment of the Aboriginal people. From ripping families apart to “civilize” them in residential schools to the extinction of many of their native languages.
There have been glimmers of hope in the dark history, such as 2015’s Truth and Reconciliation report, which highlighted the ways in which the nation could heal and move on from it’s dark past. Yet recent events have shown that maybe Canada isn’t as ready for reconciliation, as much as we hope to be.
Two criminal cases made national news in the past month for similar reasons – the lack of justice for murdered Indigenous youths. Colten Boushie was shot by Gerald Stanley, a farmer in Saskatchewan in August 2016. Stanley was acquitted for his actions in the murder in February, and on Mar. 7, CBC reported that the Crown would not appeal the verdict. Just weeks after Stanley’s acquittal, a jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty for the 2014 murder of Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg. There are records showing that Cormier was “obsessed with Tina’s killing,” according to the CBC.
Undoubtedly, these events shocked the Indigenous community in Canada, including Anna Huard, who works as a mentorship programs coordinator at Ongomiizwin Research (formally the Centre of Aboriginal Health Research). Currently based in Winnipeg, Man., Huard works with Indigenous students to help them “navigate an institution that is rigid in its colonial ways.”
To Huard, who is Indigenous herself, the results of these two cases were a complete disappointment. “It was such a shock,” she said. “Everyone around me was so convinced that justice would finally be brought to Tina, especially hearing about how Colten and his family had been let down. It was certainly quiet in the office the next day.”
Huard credits the support systems that have been built up in Winnipeg for being there for Indigenous communities. But even with them, these verdicts made her question her own worth.
“We are so fortunate to have such strong supports here in Winnipeg – most organizations have had debriefs, counselling and ceremonies for those affected,” she said. “I mean, it’s hard not to be a little scared as an Indigenous person in Canada – we are hardly considered worth anything right now.”
It’s not difficult to empathize with Huard, as these two cases underline the fact that the cards are stacked in the colonialists’ favour. It is further emphasized by the high suicide rates in many Aboriginal communities in Northern Saskatchewan, and the fact that many of these communities can’t even get clean drinking water – in Canada. Having a government that continues to fail these communities and their youth, including the numerous missing and murdered Indigenous women, is proof that reconciliation is more than a good intent – it’s actions.
“Reconciliation is an ongoing process for Canada and, to be honest, I don’t even think it has begun. The judiciary system is so rigid and functions solely on colonial ideologies that it excludes the rights of marginal peoples,” said Huard. “To say that outcome of the Fontaine and Boushie trials is due to systemic racism is a cop out – by not enforcing change, Canadians are just watching the shit hit the fan until it affects their own privilege.”
To Huard, the unjust deaths of Fontaine and Boushie highlight just how underprepared we are as a nation to burden the responsibility of reconciliation.
“Reconciliation takes on many forms (decolonizing, self-governance and self-determination, land reclamation, the fall of the Indian Act, etc.) But Canada has just proven how unprepared it is to empower the nation that it has disenfranchised.”