Rinelle Harper’s strength inspires, renews calls for a national inquiry

“Strength” is the word that comes to mind when one considers what 16-year-old Rinelle Harper survived Friday, November 7th in Winnipeg.

Harper, who is from the remote northern Manitoba reserve of God’s Lake Narrows was enjoying the night out celebrating the completion of her high school midterms, when she was viciously attacked and sexually assaulted by two men and dumped in the Assiniboine River. When she tried to crawl out, her attackers renewed their assault and left her for dead.

Luckily, Rinelle, who her mother Julie Harper called “a fighter,” managed to summon the strength to pull herself out of the river yet again, where she shivered on the bank until a passerby alerted two construction workers that she needed help. The two men – Sean Vincent and Ed Mehanovic – immediately called police, and stayed by her side until the paramedics arrived.

She was released from hospital as of Friday – one week after her attack.

In a press conference this past Thursday, Julie Harper detailed Rinelle’s plans for the immediate future: “She’s already eager to go back to Southeast Collegiate already and she wants to go back this week.’’

Harper characterized her daughter in loving terms, describing her as “responsible” and studious, with an interest in volleyball, and aspirations to join the military with her sister after school.

Harper’s parents also added that they forgave the two perpetrators, who are now charged with attempted murder.

“When I first heard there were two arrests, the first thing that came to me was to forgive right away,” Mr. Harper said. “That’s what I was taught to do by both of my late grandparents.”

Police have reason to believe the pair – 20-year-old Justin Hudson and a 17-year-old boy who cannot be identified – were involved in another sexual assault that same weekend.

Because Rinelle’s attackers were aboriginal, it has prompted some to prematurely determine that this proves that race has little to do with missing and murdered indigenous women – that instead we should be focusing on violence against all women, regardless of race. However, though the RCMP-led report, “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview,” details the age, gender and relationship of perpetrators to victims, it does not offer any information about the race of these same perpetrators, making such a claim dubious at best.

This has renewed calls in parliament for an inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

NDP MP Niki Ashton, who has a riding in northern Manitoba, said during question period Monday, “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?”

Parliamentary Secretary Susan Truppe, who spoke on behalf of the Conservative government, claimed this was the time for “action,” detailing the Conservative government’s record of toughening sentences on murder, sexual assault and kidnapping.

Yet when pushed on the issue, Truppe seemed confused, saying, “I do not know why the members think everybody wants a national action plan… Not everybody wants a national action plan or a national inquiry.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly denied the need for a national inquiry, saying that it is not a sociological phenomenon, but a “criminal” one.

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