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Children dying while predators roam free

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Convicted sexual predator Martin Tremblay is still roaming free after two teenage girls died in March – one at his home – after being given a lethal mix of alcohol and drugs within hours of their deaths.

Friends of Martha Hernandez, 17, and Kayla LaLonde, 16, said the two First Nations teens had been hanging out with a man named “Martin” who supplied them with free drugs and alcohol at parties he held for teens at his Richmond home.

Angela LaLonde, whose daughter was found collapsed on a road with bruises on her body, said police told her they were close to an arrest in her daughter’s death, but then they stopped returning calls.

“That was the last time I saw them, the last time they even said anything, and I’ve tried calling and calling and they will not call me back,” she told CTV News in June.

Yet no arrests have been made, and the families are worried there will be no justice for their daughters, particularly after hearing that Tremblay recently had a garage sale and plans to move to a new location where no one knows his history.

What is particularly alarming is that Tremblay was convicted in 2003 for raping five Native girls between the ages of 13 and 15, most of whom were in foster care.

Tremblay, 44, not only drugged and raped young girls, he made pornographic videos of them while they were unconscious. Witnesses told police he had given the girls a mixture of morphine, ecstasy, codeine and alcohol.

It was his habit of videotaping his rapes that led to his arrest after an anonymous source delivered the tapes to the Vancouver police who initiated an investigation and eventually brought charges.

Tremblay pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault, but was only sentenced to three-and-a-half years in custody and 18 months of probation – and released after serving little more than a year in prison.

Before his release, women’s advocacy groups petitioned the judge to prohibit Tremblay from contact with girls under the age of 18, but that didn’t happen. Nor was he ever listed on a sex offender registry.

Frustrated by the lack of concern by law enforcement, women’s advocacy groups plastered the neighborhood with posters bearing his picture, warning girls that Tremblay has a history of drugging and sexually assaulting teenagers. And they repeatedly questioned why police didn’t issue a public warning about him.

So when two more teenagers linked to Tremblay died, activists and families were angry and frustrated that police had not done more to protect them.

“The community wants to know what happened to these girls and why was it allowed to happen,” said Carrie Humchitt, a lawyer with the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. “These warnings weren’t taken seriously and here we are again.”

At the time, Richmond Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Jennifer Pound told the media that they had received many questions regarding “a specific individual and whether or not police will be putting out a public warning.” She said while the investigation was active, police were not in a position to name suspects or issue any warnings “based on speculation.”

According to a 2010 report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, 582 cases of murdered and missing Native women have been documented so far, mostly over the past 10 years. Experts agree, however, that the actual numbers are much higher – in the thousands – and that more cases need to be documented though funding is limited.

NWAC’s research found that the intergenerational impact of colonization and Canada’s Indian policies such as residential schools, the “60s Scoop,” and the child welfare system are underlying factors in the violence experienced by aboriginal women.

The “60s Scoop” was Canada’s 20-year effort to remove thousands of Native children from their families and place them in non-Native foster homes, where many were abused and raised without exposure to their Native culture. Some were adopted, and records of their birth families were sealed, making it nearly impossible to find links to their First Nations families or reserves.

Stripped of family, language, culture and a proper education, many children have no where to turn once they leave foster care, and end up in vulnerable situations seeking shelter and food on the streets.

“Aboriginal girls are hunted down and prostituted, and the perpetrators go uncharged with child sexual assault and child rape,” said Laura Holland, a spokeswoman for the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. “These predators, pervasive in our society, roam with impunity in our streets and take advantage of those aboriginal children with the least protection.”

Holland said many women and girls leave their reserves because of poverty, violence and terrible economic conditions. Many are the children of parents who were separated from their families when they were young and taken to residential schools.

“We have a long, multi-generational history of colonization, marginalization, and displacement from our homelands, and rampant abuses that forced many of our sisters into prostitution,” said Holland. “It’s the ultimate form of colonization – they have now colonized our bodies.”

AWAN, NWAC and leaders from First Nations communities are continuing to demand that Canadian officials conduct a public inquiry into the hundreds of murdered and missing women.

“We are tired of being told to stand down, step aside and shut up,” said Holland. “We are not doing that anymore. We are here to speak out against violence committed against us and our children.”

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has called on Canada to set up an inquiry into the reasons for the failure of law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“The CEDAW Committee has clearly recognized the urgency and gravity of the documented disappearances and murders of aboriginal women and girls from communities in Canada,” Humchitt said.

“It is important to examine why Canadian officials failed to protect these women, or investigate promptly. This is a human rights issue of central importance in Canada, and one that needs the immediate attention on the facts and solutions that the U.N. Committee is calling for.”

Editor’s note: Part three of this series will examine widespread efforts since 1992 by Native women’s organizations to demand police investigations and seek justice for women and children across Canada. Their persistence led to the 2009 formation of the Missing Women’s Task Force, a joint program of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police.