Tamara Crowchief may have yelled "I hate white people" as she carried out a violent assault on a white person, but that doesn't mean her attack was racially motivated, a Canadian judge has ruled.
The attack occurred outside a pub in Calgary, Canada, on Nov. 1, according to the Calgary Herald. Crowchief's victim, identified as Lydia White, lost a tooth in the assault, the paper reported.
Prosecutor Karuna Ramakrishnan had tried to put Crowchief behind bars for 12 to 15 months by arguing that the indigenous woman's "unprovoked" actions represented a hate crime, the paper reported. But Judge Harry Van Harten of the provincial court strongly disagreed.
“The offender said, ‘I hate white people’ and threw a punch,” Van Harten told those gathered in the court during his ruling. “There is no evidence either way about what the offender meant or whether . . . she holds or promotes an ideology which would explain why this assault was aimed at this victim. I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that this offense was, even in part, motivated by racial bias.”
The Calgary Herald reported that the attack happened suddenly and without warning.
White was standing outside the pub talking to another person when Crowchief walked up and yelled “I hate white people” before punching White in the face, the paper reported. After the assault, Crowchief left the scene, but White followed her and called police.
When authorities arrived and arrested Crowchief, she told them “the white man was out to get her,” the paper reported.
At a recent court hearing, White said she's still baffled by the assault.
“I still get angry when I think about it,” she said. “I don’t understand why this woman did this. I never did anything to her. Never even spoke to her.”
By the time of her sentencing, Crowchief had already spent more than six months in jail, according to the Calgary Herald.
Van Harten agreed with Crowchief's defense attorney, Adriano Iovinelli, that she'd been behind bars long enough.
The judge gave Crowchief 12 months probation "and ordered her to get psychological and psychiatric counselling, as well as counselling for substance abuse," the Herald reported.
Crowchief was also banned from drinking or going to a business that specializes in the sale of alcohol, the paper said.
Her case brings to light some of the longstanding racial tension between indigenous Canadians and the descendants of European colonialists, who vastly outnumber other ethnic groups.
Aboriginals make up just over 4 percent of Canada’s population, according to Canadian government figures from 2011.
Canadians, Terry Glavin writes in the Ottawa Citizen, take pride in living in a country that is free from the "original sin" of slavery and the century of violent conflict and social upheaval that followed its abolition in the United States. And yet, Canada has its own "disgraceful legacy," Glavin argues:
"Down through the decades, scores of federal and provincial laws isolated, dispossessed and ghettoized one racial or ethnic minority after another. Asians weren’t allowed to vote in Canada until the late 1940s; federally-registered Indians had to wait until 1960."
"There are many heartening, role-model exceptions that are routinely cited, but they only prove the rule: the conditions that torment Aboriginal Canadians to this day are no less a disgrace than the dead-end impoundments so many African-Americans find themselves within today. Aboriginal Canadians and African-Americans suffer from a nearly identical suite of maladies: high rates of cancer, of heart disease, mental illness, suicide, spousal abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and tuberculosis."
Among the most sensitive areas of contention between indigenous Canadians and their government has been the forced separation of more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their families throughout the 19th and 20th centuries -- a policy many have labeled "cultural genocide."
Pledging to work with indigenous communities towards reconciliation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year accepted the results of a six-year investigation into abuses that occurred within the government's residential schools for indigenous children.
The investigation identified 3,201 students who lost their lives at residential schools, but noted that countless other deaths may have gone unreported. Following the report's release, Trudeau called for "a total renewal" of the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples based on "rights, respect, cooperation and partnership."
He added: “A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is now underway. Ministers are meeting with survivors, families, and loved ones to seek their input on how best to move forward. We have also reiterated our commitments to make significant investments in First Nations education, and to lift the two per cent cap on funding for First Nations programs."
Trudeau is not the country's first prime minister to acknowledge atrocities that took place within government schools. In 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper released a statement apologizing to former students of Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the Government of Canada.
"While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities," the statement said.
"The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today," the statement added.
Although Canadian politicians are beginning to recognize their nation's racist history, polling suggests the country still harbors deep divisions.
A Canadian Broadcasting Corp. poll in 2014 revealed that only 50 percent of people living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta said they'd find a romantic relationship with an "aboriginal person" acceptable, a full 13 percentage points lower than the national average.
Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, told the CBC that the results highlight a the nation's pervasive legacy or racism.
When they were asked about having an aboriginal neighbor, only 61 percent of respondents from the same regions said they were comfortable with the idea, down from 75 percent nationally, the CBC reported.
"Starting from the residential school era, Canadians have been taught, as much as indigenous people in those schools, that they were inferior and savage," Sinclair said.