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SNOBELEN: The wise plea for mercy

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Tina Fontaine It’s been said that a young man screams for justice and an old man pleads for mercy. The young know a thing or two about justice, particularly the schoolyard form of justice where good and evil are obvious. It isn’t always that simple. Take the troubling case […]


Tina Fontaine

It’s been said that a young man screams for justice and an old man pleads for mercy.

The young know a thing or two about justice, particularly the schoolyard form of justice where good and evil are obvious.

It isn’t always that simple.

Take the troubling case of Tina Michelle Fontaine, for example.

In her short life, Tina didn’t get many breaks.

When she was 12, her father, Eugene Fontaine, was beaten to death. His two assailants said that his beating came after an argument at the end of a multi-day bender.

Nicholas Abraham and Jonathan Starr, the men convicted of beating Fontaine and leaving him to die in a garden shed on the Sagkeeng First Nation reserve, were raised in violence and struggled with alcohol abuse.

Tina Fontaine was troubled by the violent death of her father. She drifted into Winnipeg the summer of her fifteenth year. She never left.

Her body was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 12, 2014.

Her murder remains unsolved.

Her tragic death prompted a long search for justice. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) inquiry spent three years and nearly $100 million searching for answers.

The inquiry recently released its findings in an exhaustive report entitled Reclaiming Power and Place.

The report has received a lot of attention, as the authors clearly intended, for the naked use of the term genocide to describe the high rate of violent death experienced by women (and, it might be worth noting, men) in aboriginal communities.

I did not linger over the term, or the many pages devoted to its use. I am more interested in the search for justice for Tina Fontaine.

The commissioners described people caught in an endless cycle of violence. Their report spends considerable time dealing with the “normalization of violence.”

Here, the commissioners must have heard the faint whispers of Tina Fontaine, whose brief life was marked by, and ended in, violence.

The commission found in Chapter 8: Confronting Oppression – Right To Justice, that levels of violence are so pervasive within some communities that “police are indifferent to such violence.”

It found communities that had come to accept the presence of violence because the remedies seemed worse. The report notes: “For some people, fears that contacting the police may lead to involvement with child welfare means that living with violence is a better choice than losing their children.”

The report treks through some familiar ground.

An inventory of human rights, including “the foundational right of self-determination” fills many pages.

As does the search for the origins of violence, which the commissioners pegged to colonialism in general and residential schools in particular.

Some will argue about the use of the term genocide. Others will point out that racism, violence and oppression predate the colonizing of Canada.

One thing is certain — justice for Tina Fontaine isn’t easy.

Which is the reason why the wise plead for mercy rather than scream for justice.

They know that racism doesn’t divide the world into righteous and hateful cliques. In our collective subconscious, racism runs through the middle of all of us.

But so do the qualities of mercy and forgiveness.

Which is why, even after hearing the tragic stories from the families of murdered women, there is room for hope that some future generation will be born into a better circumstance than the life that confronted Tina Fontaine.

Maybe we should all work for that day.

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