The Death of Helen Betty Osborne

The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission


Chapter 10

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We realize, of course, that much has changed in the years since Betty Osborne’s life was taken in 1971. The segregation in the school lunch-room, the bars and the movie theatre has, we understand, ended. Still, much more must be done.

If the two communities make a real and concerted effort to eradicate the separation, things will inevitably improve. The non-Aboriginal community must learn to respect Aboriginal people and their culture. Instead of looking at the Aboriginal people only as consumers, the business community should be offering them employment in stores and businesses. It is surprising even to see how few Aboriginal people are employed in the shopping mall located on the reserve. If Aboriginal people are to become self-sufficient, those in control of business have to make a greater effort to provide them with an opportunity to work. Government may have to take the lead by employing greater numbers of Aboriginal people in all government offices. We believe that quotas should be used so that Aboriginal people receive preference in employment until the numbers employed are representative of the numbers living in a community. Not only could the provincial government do this in its own offices, but it could require the same policy be followed by all Crown agencies and by all companies with which it does business.

The pervasive separation and discrimination that existed in The Pas in 1971 shows the need for increasing the involvement of the Aboriginal peoples in the institutions of mainstream Canada. Would the case have come more quickly to a conclusion if more Aboriginal persons were in the police? Or in the Crown Prosecutor’s office? Of course, we have no way of knowing and it is pointless to speculate. But it is a fact that it was the special effort made by Constable Urbanoski which brought those involved to court. This may be due in part to changes in police practice. It is only recently that the police have resorted to the use of newspaper advertisements and television shows such as "Crime Stoppers." But it is also possible that, had there been Aboriginal persons involved in the investigation and prosecution, the necessary extra effort might have been forthcoming earlier. We do not know if that is so. We cannot know. We believe that only if the justice system employs more Aboriginal persons will such questions be avoided in the future. Until it does, such doubts and suspicions will continue to arise. It is an inescapable fact that the Osborne case demonstrates that the justice system must employ many more Aboriginal persons. And it must do so immediately. In the other volume of our report we discuss more specifically how this process might begin.

It is clear that Betty Osborne would not have been killed if she had not been Aboriginal. The four men who took her to her death from the streets of The Pas that night had gone looking for an Aboriginal girl with whom to "party." They found Betty Osborne. When she refused to party she was driven out of town and murdered. Those who abducted her showed a total lack of regard for her person or her rights as an individual. Those who stood by while the physical assault took place, while sexual advances were made and while she was being beaten to death showed their own racism, sexism and indifference. Those who knew the story and remained silent must share their guilt. TOP

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