The trial for the man accused of killing Tina Fontaine — whose death spurred calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — begins Monday.
The body of Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl, was pulled from the Red River near the Alexander Docks in central Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014, eight days after she was reported missing.
More than a year later, police in Vancouver arrested then 53-year-old Raymond Cormier, who was charged with second-degree murder.
Cormier was born in New Brunswick but lived in Winnipeg for several years.
Fontaine’s death shocked the community, drawing national attention and adding to pressure for a national inquiry.
“It was a moment … certainly for all of us here in Manitoba, but for everybody across the country, to really get a more intimate understanding of the reality and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” said Nahanni Fontaine, NDP MLA for St Johns and former special advisor on Indigenous women’s issues for the government of Manitoba.
The judge and jury trial is scheduled to run for five weeks. There was no preliminary hearing and Cormier has maintained his innocence.
‘A petite little thing’
At the time of her death, Fontaine was a ward of Child and Family Services. She had run away from her home in the Sagkeeng First Nation on July 1, 2014 and travelled to Winnipeg. She was later placed in CFS care.
While Fontaine was in care, she was placed in the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, but she walked away on Aug. 9. Her body was found eight days later.
“She’s a petite little thing — just turned 15, barely in the city for a little over a month,” said homicide investigator Sgt. John O’Donovan at a 2014 news conference after Fontaine’s death.
“We know that she was in care and that she was rebelling in that care she was in,” O’Donovan said. “At 15, I’m sure she didn’t realize the danger she was putting herself in.”
Her great-aunt Thelma Favel said Fontaine struggled to cope with the violent death of her father in 2011.
Nahanni Fontaine says O’Donovan’s words about the teenage girl marked a departure from how people often talk about Indigenous women and girls who are murdered or go missing.
“Typically the narrative has been, they put themselves at risk or they were sex trade workers or all of this really egregious social constructions that have nothing to do with the fact that somebody’s life has just been taken or somebody’s life has been stolen,” she said.
“He stood up for that and I think it allowed the public to see themselves reflected in Tina, either as their own daughter or their own relative.”
Changes since Fontaine’s death
Tina Fontaine’s death sparked local efforts to prevent future deaths and to solve old cases of missing people.
The Bear Clan Patrol citizen group relaunched in February 2015 in direct response to her death.
In 2016, Bear Clan leader James Favel described Fontaine’s death as “the last straw for myself, my family and my community at large,” to CBC News.
Shortly after Fontaine’s body was found, volunteers started the Drag the Red initiative to search the Red River for evidence of missing people.
Her death also sparked an overhaul of CFS’s emergency housing program for at-risk youth, which placed youth in hotels when foster homes weren’t available.
Nahanni Fontaine says many things have changed in the way people think about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women since the tragedy.
“At the time, as most will remember, a national inquiry was not even on the agenda,” she said.
“So there’s those changes but the fact remains that today we still have cases of Indigenous women who go missing or are murdered. That is unacceptable for all of us.”
Published at Mon, 29 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500