Speakers at a protest that briefly blocked traffic at Albert and Victoria say they fear for their children’s lives, and don’t trust the justice system to protect them
Joan Cyr was driving to see her grandchildren on Saturday afternoon when she noticed more than 100 protesters had taken over the intersection ahead of her.
Cyr had driven right into a round dance at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Albert Street. It was a reaction to Thursday’s acquittal of Raymond Cormier, the man who had been accused of killing Manitoba teen Tina Fontaine.
The 60-year-old Cree grandmother had known nothing about the rally. But she was not perturbed by the delay.
“I feel really overwhelmed,” Cyr said, visibly shaken. “I really feel sad for those people who lost their lives, for no reason … the justice system needs to change.”
She thought of her own grandchildren, who she fears might face the same kind of prejudice that, many say, is taking Indigenous lives.
The same mood held sway on the steps of the Court of Queen’s Bench, the starting point of the rally. Standing before a flag warning “no justice, no reconciliation,” speakers said they don’t trust the justice system to protect Indigenous people.
aqueline Anaquod spoke first. She said the protesters were there to show love and solidarity for Fontaine. Like Cyr, she drew parallels with her own worries as a mother.
“Every time she would walk out that door,” she said of her daughter, “I would warn her that she’s a target and it would be traumatizing. Each time she would leave, I would pray that she would come back, that she wouldn’t be stolen, that somebody wouldn’t target her and take her.
“That’s the trauma a lot of Indigenous mothers go through, that we live with.”
Anaquod said Indigenous people will long remember Fontaine’s story.
Tina Fontaine was 15 years old in 2014, when she was found wrapped in a duvet cover sunk down by stones at the bottom of the Red River in Winnipeg. The details of her death are still unclear. The Crown presented no forensic evidence to support its case, which relied on allegedly incriminating statements made by Cormier.
In the eyes of many protesters, the Cormier verdict was an echo of the same system that, they say, failed Colten Boushie.
“I’d like to see the justice system be changed,” Allan Kakakaway said at the Regina rally. “First Nations had their own justice system before colonialism came, and I think it worked pretty well. When colonialism came, it became a one-sided affair.”
The speakers at the rally took up the same theme. Chasity Delorme said the case is more proof that Canada has a “colonial justice system” that Indigenous people can’t count on.
“Now we live in a greater fear that our own government is not protecting us,” she said. “These systems, the government, these oppressive structures… they aren’t meant for us. They weren’t created to protect us.”
Another activist, Brenda Dubois, used far harsher language when addressing the rally. She blamed the government for putting a disproportionate number of Indigenous children into care — more, she noted, than at the time of residential schools.
Dubois called the Ministry of Social Services a “genocide factory” and poured red paint on the steps of the courthouse to represent blood.
Delorme called for more marches. She warned they will continue as long as necessary
“These rallies are going to get larger, and stronger, and louder, if change isn’t made now,” she said.
She defended the use of disruptive tactics, like temporarily blocking traffic, as a way to drive home the message to those unwilling to listen.
“There are people in our community that, I guess, have a blind eye and a deaf ear to social issues,” Delorme said. “To disrupt traffic isn’t as severe as the issues that are out there.”
The reaction among motorists, and even among those who support the rally’s aims, was mixed. While the round dance attracted enthusiastic honks of support and thumbs up, other drivers expressed their irritation.
“I would just like to know how long it’s going to take,” said one man, who stressed that he agrees with the message of the protest. “I’m a little upset cause I’m on my way to work … I just don’t see how this accomplished much.”
It lasted a few minutes.