On Wednesday, March 10, during a session of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, an MLA was ejected from the house for using “unparliamentary” language. It happened after an exchange involving Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP MLA for St. Johns.
Readers may have already seen Fontaine’s name pop up on social media earlier this week. On Tuesday, March 9, Fontaine alleged that Minister of Justice Cameron Friesen (previously known for his months-long bungling of Manitoba’s COVID-19 strategy) made a racist remark toward her. Friesen allegedly heckled Fontaine, who is Indigenous, responding to Fontaine’s question about crime by saying that she “would know about gangs.”
If Friesen actually said this, Fontaine was absolutely right to call Friesen out and demand an apology. She correctly labelled the heckling as “disgusting.”
But it wasn’t Friesen who was ejected from the chamber. Instead, on March 10, Fontaine herself was ejected for saying that the governing Progressive Conservatives “simply don’t give a crap about Indigenous women and girls in this province.”
It’s a sad reality that racist heckling is considered acceptable in the Legislature while the word “crap” is verboten. But more importantly, Fontaine has a point. The comment came during a discussion in which Fontaine pointed out the abject lack of empathy from the PCs regarding murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people. She pointed out that PC MLAs haven’t attended vigils for victims, contacted families to express sympathies or even tweeted condolences.
Premier Brian Pallister was quick to accuse Fontaine of trying to score political points. But our local and provincial governments have shown a lack of concern and empathy on racial injustice and violence faced by Indigenous Winnipeggers. They show their hostility by continuing to bloat police budgets, despite Indigenous people disproportionately facing brutality and death at the hands of police.
Published in Volume 75, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 11, 2021)