Both were mothers. Both were Indigenous. Both had children to support. Both had mothers, had extended families and had good friends. Both had the same middle name – Jean. Both had to find their ways of living in dangerous neighbourhoods—one along the Stroll of the prairie city of Regina, the other along Gottingen St in Halifax.
The dangers came from white men. Most were just ignorant johns. But the final peril came from white men who were out to kill them.
I’m referring to Pamela George and to Tanya Brooks. George, 28, from Sakimay First Nation* 140 km from Regina, was killed in 1995 on the Easter weekend. Brooks, 36, from Millbrook First Nation not far from Halifax, was murdered 14 years later, on Mother’s Day. George left two daughters. Brooks left five children without a mother.
Left: Pamela George, right: Tanya Brooks
Anatomy of a Murder
Two young white men, 20-year-old university students, were charged with first-degree murder of Pamela George. Both Stephen Kummerfield (now Brown**) and Alex Ternowetsky pleaded not guilty. During the trial, Justice Ted Malone, urged the jury to remember that George “indeed was a prostitute” when they considered if she had consented to sex. The issue of consent became the key, so the jury convicted the two murderers of the lesser offence of manslaughter.
Both men bragged about what they had done. Drunk, they drove through town aimlessly wanting to pick up an Indigenous woman for sex. Ternowetsky hid in the trunk. When George got in the car, Kummerfield drove to a deserted road just outside of town. There, Ternowetsky jumped out of the trunk; both men raped George and then beat her to death. They left her body in a ditch.
Judge told the jury Pamela George was “indeed a prostitute”
A day after George’s murder, a friend casually asked Ternowetsky what he had done on the long weekend. Ternowetsky said, “We drove around, got drunk and killed this chick.” Later he added, “She deserved it. She was Indian.”
Both men were sentenced to six and a half years in prison—a sentence which reflects the privilege and benefits of their skin colour and social status. They served less time. Kummerfield served three and a half years in jail.
When Kummerfield sought and received parole, Gus Richardson a member of the parole board, said, “The board noted you speak little about your victim and the suffering you caused her and the family she left behind.” Still Kummerfield received parole as the board did not consider him “an undue risk on full parole.”
Well-respected Canadian sociologist and critical race expert Dr Sherene Rezack wrote about the murder in an excellent article called Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George. She objects to people who agree that an outrageous injustice was done (to George) but who want to “de-race” the violence.
“While it is certainly patriarchy that produces men whose sense of identity is achieved through the brutalizing of a woman, the men’s and the court’s capacity to dehumanize Pamela George derived from their understanding of her as the (gendered) Other whose degradation confirmed their own identities as white—that is, as men entitled to the land and the full benefits of citizenship.”p. 93, Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George
Who murdered Tanya Brooks?
Likely this is exactly the type of man, or men, who murdered Tanya Jean Brooks on that Mother’s Day night. To add insult to injury, the Halifax police continue to claim they are investigating the murder – which took place nine years ago. And there is reward of $150,000 for anyone who comes forward with information which leads to the arrest and conviction of the murderer(s).
Brooks was last seen about 9 pm on May 10, 2009; she was walking on Gottingen Street. Earlier that day she had phoned her mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Brooks was found the next afternoon, her body shoved into a basement window-well of the abandoned St Patrick’s-Alexander School on Maitland St. The police were quick to say she worked in the sex trade and was into drugs and alcohol. Some people say she struggled to find housing. Other accounts mention the underprivileged life she was forced to live, a life of homelessness, run-ins with the ‘justice’ system, jail time, and poverty.
In 2015, Hilary Beaumont, a journalist who used to live in Halifax, wrote a thoughtful article in Vice which included some details about Brooks’ life. A year before her death, she was beaten nearly to death by her dealer, Patrick Segerts. He only stopped beating her when the iron pipe broke. He was charged, and jailed where he sat a year later when Brooks was murdered. In Beaumont’s article, she interviewed several people who knew Brooks and had theories about what happened to her. One person said they saw a gang of men follow her that night to an alleyway; others said she was the target of a drug-hit; another person said because she had gone to the police and testified, the bounty on her head was $2,000.
Still there is nothing. Clearly the police have no real leads. And despite pressure from her sister and other relatives, plus the annual Memorial Walk by scores of family and friends – this year on May 10 – the troubling fact is no one has been charged. This is par for the course, as the federal government’s own estimate is that there have been least 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) over the last 30 years. Amnesty International claims police statistics reveal that number to be 1100 – which is 4.5 times higher than for other Canadian women.
On Tuesday May 10, at 1 pm, friends and family of Tanya Brooks will gather for the Memorial Walk in front of the police station on Gottingen Street. From there we usually walk to the derelict school where she was found, and from there to the new Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre. Everyone is welcome. Here’s what I wrote about the Memorial Walk in 2019. I’ll be there Tuesday.
Also, I recommend reading Sherene Rezack: Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George (Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 2000. Vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 91-130). Get it through a university library database, or through an interlibrary loan at the public library.
*Sagimay First Nation is now called Zagime Anishinabek
**Kummerfield changed his name to Brown; he became a published poet.
Featured Image: Jaime Black’s The REDress Project in downtown Nelson, BC in 2021. You can read more here in Vogue Magazine (Photo credit: Jeremy Addington)