All lives matter

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When Tina Lafontaine’s lifeless body was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River 18 months ago, the 15-year-old’s tragic end helped serve to power calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. As 2016 begins, Canada’s new Liberal government is preparing to launch the long-overdue look at why Native women are disproportionately killed and disappeared in Canada.

What is far less known is that Tina Lafontaine’s father, Eugene, was himself murdered three years previously, in 2011. That fact is symbolic of a greater truth. As horrific is the murder rate of Aboriginal women in Canada, Aboriginal men here have violent deaths at an even higher rate. Much higher, in fact.

Last November, Statistics Canada reported that, as of 2014, Aboriginal men are being murdered at a rate almost 11 times that of the general population. That’s close to twice the rate of Aboriginal women. Indeed, of the 2,500 murdered people in Canada of Native origin between 1982 and 2011, more than 70% of them were male.

“The reality is the homicide rate for Aboriginal men is much higher and has always been much higher,” Neil Boyd, director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, said of the report. “There’s a disturbing, unfortunate legacy, and it’s something that we all collectively need to put a good deal of effort into trying to resolve.”

Let’s be clear: We support the need for a far-reaching understanding of why First Nations women are victims of violence and indifference in this country. Women face distinct issues that underlie their exploitation, abuse and, ultimately, their murders.

But many of these issues are part of a general pattern of violence against, and among Aboriginal populations. And we believe that lives of Aboriginal men also matter. The manner of their death should tell us something about the country we live – and die – in.

RCMP statistics regarding this phenomenon are thin. We know that, overall, 83% of male homicides in Canada are ultimately solved. The national police force doesn’t break that figure down into Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, however. It’s probably safe to assume that the number of solved murders involving male Aboriginal victims is far lower.

But few people ask why that is, much less march in cities across Canada demanding answers. We should.

We should because these lost lives continue to impact those left behind. As the StatsCan report noted, Manitoba has the highest rate of murdered Aboriginals of either sex. That’s where Eugene Lafontaine was beaten repeatedly over several hours, tied up and left outside on the Sagkeeng First Nation without a shirt on the cold fall evening he died.

A Manitoba court hearing into his daughter’s death heard that Tina went into a freefall after her father’s murder. She started “drifting away” from her family, according to one witness, who added she “was not able to cope at all.” She ended up on the streets of Winnipeg, where she would herself later be found, murdered, less than three years later.

These two events were connected, and they should remind us that all Aboriginal lives matter. Let’s not forget our men.

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