Death of Tina Fontaine
September 2013 school photograph of Fontaine
Tina Michelle Fontaine
January 1, 1999
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|Disappeared||August 8, 2014 (aged 15)|
Downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|Died||c. August 10, 2014(aged 15)|
|Body discovered||Red River, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada|
|Resting place||Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada|
Tina Michelle Fontaine (January 1, 1999 – c. August 10, 2014) was a First Nations teenage girl who was reported missing and died in August 2014. Her case is considered among the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada. Her death renewed calls by activists for the government to conduct a national inquiry into the issue.
Identified early as a suspect, Raymond Joseph Cormier was charged in December 2015 with murdering her. Cormier was acquitted by a jury in February 2018. Under new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015, the government committed to creating an independent national inquiry into the issue of murders and violence against Indigenous women, which was started in 2017.
Her father, Eugene, was beaten to death in 2011. His two assailants received manslaughter convictions. Fontaine's aunt recalled that her father's violent death deeply affected the girl. "She was very hurt, very lost. That's when she drifted away." Despite being eligible she did not receive grief counseling following her father's death, and began struggling in school and running away from home. In July 2014 she went to Winnipeg to visit her mother, and was subsequently apprehended in Winnipeg by Manitoba Child and Family Services (CFS).
Disappearances and body discovery
Fontaine was reported missing to Winnipeg Police Service on July 31, 2014. Her aunt, Lana, later said that Fontaine had stayed with her during the August long weekend (August 1–3). On August 5, Fontaine telephoned her CFS worker and was subsequently picked up by members of CFS and Winnipeg Police Service. What happened to Fontaine between August 5 and August 8 is unclear, but she remained a missing youth. She presented at a youth shelter in the early morning hours of August 8, but left shortly thereafter. At 5:15 a.m. on August 8, two police officers encountered her in a truck with an allegedly drunk driver as part of a traffic stop, but did not take her into custody, even though she was known to be missing. The two constables were suspended for their actions and left the police force.
At 10 a.m., she was found passed out in an alleyway near Ellice Avenue and was escorted to hospital and treated before being checked into a hotel placement, which she soon left. She was reported missing again on August 9.
At around 1:30 p.m. on August 17, a body was found wrapped in plastic and a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in the Red River. The body was identified as that of Fontaine the following day. Police believe she had died on or around August 10.
A young woman who claimed to have been with Fontaine shortly before she disappeared told CBC News of events that happened in the hours leading up to her disappearance. Identified by CBC News as "Katrina", she said that after she met Fontaine between 10 and 11 p.m. on August 7, they went to eat at the Macdonald Youth Services emergency shelter at around 2:30 a.m. Believing Fontaine was drunk, Katrina requested the shelter staff keep her overnight, but Fontaine refused to stay, and refused to give her name. After seeing her get into the truck and the encounter with the police, Katrina lost contact with Fontaine until around 8 p.m., after Fontaine left the hotel where she was staying. At around 3 a.m. the following morning, the two young women were approached on Ellice Avenue by a man who offered Fontaine money to perform a sex act. She accepted and left with the man. Katrina followed them but lost sight of the two in the dark.
In response to Fontaine's death, the Canadian Human Rights Commission requested a full inquiry into the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The RCMP already had such a study underway, which was completed in 2014. Acting chief commissioner David Langtry wrote, "Once again our hearts are filled with grief and sadness as we mourn the brutal and senseless murder of an Aboriginal girl. Tina must not disappear into the oblivion of statistics." With the change in government, in December 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a national inquiry titled "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls" would be undertaken. Five independent commissioners were appointed, and commissioners and staff began to consult with families, activist organizations, and others about how to structure the inquiry.
In response to the death, a volunteer group known as Drag the Red was formed. They have begun to regularly drag portions of the Red River, in order to find bodies or evidence. Additionally, a local Inuit woman, Holly Jarrett, has started social media campaigns: the #AmINext hashtag and a Change.org petition in response to Fontaine's death. The hashtag campaign called for a national inquiry and allowed Indigenous women to express their feelings about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The Strong Hearted Buffalo Women Crisis Stabilization Unit, a semi-secure crisis intervention program for Indigenous girls considered at risk of sexual exploitation, was created in the fall of 2015 in response to Fontaine's case. The Ndinawe agency also received funding to open 24/7 safe space for youth, which was launched in November 2018 as "Tina's Safe Haven". Fontaine was buried on Sagkeeng First Nation next to her father. A memorial was placed at the site on the first anniversary of the discovery of her body at the Red River.
On February 28, 2018, the Justice for our Stolen Children Camp was set up on Wascana Park in Regina in response to the death of Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie. In March 2018, political activist Indygo Arscott held a rally outside Toronto City Hall to voice outrage in memory of Fontaine due to Cormier being found not guilty of the crime. In March 2019, Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth Daphne Penrose released a report documenting Fontaine's life and the shortcomings of the agencies that were meant to protect her.
Raymond Joseph Cormier was charged with Fontaine's murder in December 2015. The trial began January 29, 2018. Raymond Cormier pled not guilty to second degree murder charges. The government did not introduce any forensic evidence or eyewitnesses directly linking Cormier to Tina's death. At the time of the trial, the cause of death remained undetermined. Cormier's lawyers argued that without a determination on the cause of death, it cannot be known for certain that Tina died as a result of an unlawful act, and Cormier should be acquitted "on that [argument] alone". He was found not guilty on February 22, 2018.
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