Nov 18, 2014 | By: Mia Rabson
An attack on a Winnipeg teenager last week is further proof the government needs to do more to protect aboriginal women and girls from violence, opposition parties said in the House of Commons Monday.
Both Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux and Churchill NDP MP Niki Ashton raised the horrific sex assault on 16-year-old Rinelle Harper during question period.
Rinelle was attacked Nov. 7 while walking along the riverwalk near the Midtown Bridge. She was assaulted, beaten and thrown into the Assiniboine River. She managed to pull herself out of the river but her attackers saw her and attacked her again, leaving her for dead. She was found unconscious by a passerby and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. She recovered enough to leave the hospital over the weekend. Two males, ages 17 and 20, were arrested in the case.
Rinelle’s case stands out not only for her age and the horror of the attack, but because, with the consent of her family, police released her name to the public, a rare if not totally unprecedented move.
Lamoureux said he hopes the government will see her story as another reason calling for a national inquiry to study the issue of violence against aboriginal women, and in particular the high rate of slain and missing women in Canada.
“Rinelle Harper is a survivor,” Lamoureux said. “She is a 16-year-old First Nations girl who was sexually assaulted, beaten and thrown into the Assiniboine River. She pulled herself out of the river where she was again beaten and left for dead.”
Ashton followed a few minutes later.
“Because of her incredible strength and the support of her family and her friends, (Rinelle Harper) is getting better,” Ashton said. “However, until Canadians as a whole address violence against indigenous women, the violence will not stop. The question is this.
When will the current government take leadership to put an end to violence against women, come up with an action plan and support the families so that what Rinelle went through and what thousands of indigenous women go through will never happen again?”
Conservative MP Susan Truppe, the parliamentary secretary for the Status of Women, said the attack on Rinelle was appalling but her government had already taken multiple steps to ensure perpetrators of such crimes are severely punished.
“This was a horrific crime, and I commend the Harper family for its courage and determination throughout this ordeal,” Truppe said.
Truppe also noted more than 40 studies have been done to look at the issue of violence against aboriginal girls and said the government has an action plan in place.
“Now is not the time for more studies. Now is the time for action.”
The action plan was unveiled in September and aims to spend $25 million over the next five years on a number of areas, including developing community safety plans, particularly in high-risk regions, projects to break intergenerational cycles of violence and money for victim services and assistance to victims and their families.
Grand Chief David Harper of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said it’s clear the government isn’t going to agree to call an inquiry but said a $25-million action plan is nothing if it doesn’t address the biggest issues affecting First Nations — education and child welfare.
Harper said it’s believed both males arrested for attacking Rinelle had been through the child-welfare system and First Nations are desperate for improved funding for child welfare and family programs on reserves to try to prevent family breakdowns.
He also said additional funding for education on reserves is in limbo as chiefs organizations and Ottawa battle over consultations and jurisdictions. Meanwhile, he said Rinelle had to come to Winnipeg in the first place because the programming she needs to take in order to qualify to join the military — which is her goal — is not available in her home community of Garden Hill First Nation. Rinelle came to Winnipeg to attend Southeast Collegiate.
Harper said better education and better services to help families cope could go a long way to reducing the level of violence within aboriginal communities.