A Manitoba Conservative staffer who expressed support for a missing women’s inquiry was fired for voicing a viewpoint that veered from the party line on the issue.
Spencer Fernando, a member of the Progressive Conservative caucus in Manitoba, had recently attended a vigil for 15-year-old Aboriginal girl Tina Fontaine, whose body was found wrapped in a bag and dumped in the Red River in Winnipeg in August. Her death sparked outcry and renewed calls for an inquiry into the nation’s 1,181 missing or murdered Aboriginal women.
"I heard a lot of people discussing the need for an inquiry. You could feel the emotion in their voices…so I felt compelled to share my own thoughts," he told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Fernando said he wasn’t necessarily fired by the Conservatives for his blog post, but that the party was not happy about him expressing his views about the matter.
"The concern was, that as a member of the caucus staff, I should not be taking policy positions publicly."
Statistics show that Aboriginal women are disproportionately affected by violent crime, despite the fact that Aboriginal people are only 4.3 per cent of the national population. In Saskatchewan, 55 per cent of the female murder victims from 1980-2012 were Aboriginal (see RCMP report for further statistics). In Ferndando’s home province of Manitoba, Aborignal women comprised 49 per cent of female murder victims, despite comprising just 16.7 per cent of the total Manitoban population.
Aboriginal women are not only more likely to be killed, but also 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women in Canada.
Fernando’s blog post said an inquiry would not only bring causes of violence against Aboriginal women to light, but show that government viewed Indigenous women as “worthy of national attention”.
Excerpts from his blog:
The fact is that this is an ongoing problem. So it’s not enough to investigate deaths after they happen. We need to find a way to prevent the deaths from happening, and an inquiry could help achieve that goal.
A public inquiry would accomplish something else of importance as well. It would send a clear message that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is seen as worthy of national attention.
Injustice and despair thrives in the shadows. An inquiry could bring these things into the light. An inquiry would send a message that, while we can’t change our past, we are willing to learn from it.
Yes, an inquiry could bring up some dark truths. Yet, by facing those truths with clear eyes and open hearts, we can learn, grow, and respond together, as one nation.
I believe that Canada will not achieve our full potential until all who live within our borders feel respected and valued, and feel like an equal part of our Canadian family.
A public inquiry would be an important step along the road to healing, and greater security for all. That is why I support a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Fernando is not the only Conservative-aligned voice calling for more action on missing Aboriginal women in Canada. Although not part of the party, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall — described as the Conservative movement’s ‘best communicator’ — has also expressed his support for an inquiry into missing and murdered women.
See more here.