Indigenous leaders call for change after 'all the systems' failed Tina Fontaine

Indigenous leaders call for change after 'all the systems' failed Tina Fontaine

Indigenous leaders in Manitoba say Canadian systems failed Tina Fontaine, and Canadians need to work together to fix them.

"The CFS system has definitely failed Tina Fontaine," said Kevin Hart, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, referring to the province's Child and Family Services system. 

"The Winnipeg Police Service has failed Tina Fontaine. Canadian society failed Tina Fontaine."

Hart and other leaders addressed reporters from the steps of Winnipeg's courthouse minutes after an 11-person jury found Raymond Cormier, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in Tina's 2014 death.

Her 72-pound body was found in Winnipeg's Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighted down with rocks, on Aug. 17 of that year. She was 15. Cormier was charged on Dec. 8 the following year. 

Tina interacted with CFS and Winnipeg police in the weeks before her death. Thelma Favel, a great-aunt who raised Tina for much of her life, asked in July for the agency to take custody of her after she left Sagkeeng First Nation for Winnipeg to find her birth mother. CFS placed her in an area hotel, but she ran away and later told a social worker she was staying at a group home. She was reported missing on July 30. 

Two Winnipeg police officers spoke to Tina as part of a traffic stop on Aug. 8. She was in a car being driven by a man who was allegedly drunk. He was taken into custody, but the officers let Tina go.

"There's no shield against negligence, there's no shield against incompetence. All the systems that were to protect Tina failed her," said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"It is unacceptable. Everything has failed. How can we talk about reconciliation when the very nets that we're asked to participate in do not fulfil what they're supposed to fulfil?"

Dumas said CFS needs to change.

"It ultimately killed Tina. There's no denying that," said Sheila North, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

North said Canadians need to work together to find the solution.

"We want justice for Tina. We want to see what failed in this system and how did it lead to this person?" North said.

"And if it's not [Cormier]… someone's still out there responsible for taking her life, including all of the systems that were involved in her life, including everything from child welfare to the policing to the poverty levels that her and her family were subjected to."

'It is about all of us'

Leaving the courtroom, Sue Caribou, a Winnipeg advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, was visibly emotional.

"Not once in my life have I ever seen justice since I was f--king young. Not once do our people ever get justice. I have 10 murdered, two missing and to this f--king day we don't have justice," she said.

Caribou's niece, Tanya Nepinak, went missing from downtown Winnipeg in 2011. Convicted killer Shawn Lamb was charged in her death in June 2012, but the charges were later stayed. She told CBC News last year seven people in her family have been murdered and two were still missing.

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, echoed the calls for Canadians to come together.

"Every single member of this country and this province is responsible for what's happening here today, and you have to stand up and take part in making reconciliation a reality. It is about all of us," Daniels said.

"If we want to talk about making our society great, we have to do it together."

March for Tina

Niigaan Sinclair, a professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, said he's helping Favel organize a march in Tina's honour for Friday morning in Winnipeg.

The march is about love for Tina, peace, unity and ultimately change, he said.

"As a country, how tired are we going to get of the treatment of young people like this? How much more has to happen before change occurs?" Sinclair said.

"Perhaps today is a day when we should think about Tina but tomorrow is a day we should think about, what are we going to do now?"

The march begins at the Winnipeg courthouse at 408 York Ave. at 10:30 a.m. CT on Friday.