Tina Fontaine: 1 Year Since Her Death, Has Anything Changed?

A photo of slain teen Tina Fontaine sits atop her casket in a family home on Sagkeeng First Nation last summer. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)

A photo of slain teen Tina Fontaine sits atop her casket in a family home on Sagkeeng First Nation last summer. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)

CBC News

4 indigenous women have been killed in Winnipeg since Fontaine, 15, was found dead in Red River

Monday marks one year since 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was pulled out of Winnipeg’s Red River.

Since her murder, six Winnipeg women have been killed. Four were indigenous.

Outside of Winnipeg, three females were killed. At least one of them was indigenous — Teresa Robinson, the 11-year-old girl who was found dead on Garden Hill First Nation.

In the year following Fontaine's death, out of the six women who were killed in Winnipeg, four were indigenous. (CBC News)
In the year following Fontaine’s death, out of the six women who were killed in Winnipeg, four were indigenous. (CBC News)

“I believe we have now reached a level of, I think, consciousness that this is now an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away,” says Leslie Spillett, an indigenous advocate and director of Ka Ni Kanichihk.

Spillett has been doing advocacy work on missing and murdered indigenous women for at least 10 years. She said Tina Fontaine’s murder was a tipping point.

“In the broader community I think that we saw that as kind of a watershed,” said Spillett. “A year ago there was 3,000 to 4,000 people that came out to express their concern.”

Her hope is with more people aware of the problem, they will start putting pressure on the government and police to make changes. “There is such a huge transformation that has to take place so people feel safe, so women are respected, so children have their needs met.”

Child-welfare system changes

Indigenous sexual assault program announcement - Dec. 12, 2014
Leslie Spillett speaks to media in December about a new program to help indigenous women who are sexually assaulted. (CBC)

Spillett said social issues like poverty, lack of housing and lack of resources play a role in the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Fontaine was in the care of the province’s Child and Family Services (CFS) when she went missing and was found murdered. She had been placed in a downtown Winnipeg hotel —an overflow child-housing practice that has since been phased out by the province.

After her death, another indigenous teen girl, staying in a downtown hotel under the the care of CFS, was severely beaten and sexually assaulted.

That attack is what moved the province to stop housing CFS wards in hotels. A spokesperson for CFS said there have been no kids in hotels since May 11.

Spillett calls this a good start: “But still, those are small changes and those are very small.”

2nd impact

She said the second impact Fontaine’s death has had on society is within the indigenous community.

“Never before have we seen such a resurgence in grassroots leadership … making sure our citizens are protected on the streets,” she said.

Drag the Red, and the reappearance of the citizen-led Bear Clan Patrol both started as a result of Fontaine’s death.

Drag The Red

Since Fontaine’s death, Kyle Kematch has been on the Red River almost every day, outside of the winter months.

“She [Fontaine] was so young, she was just a kid. Kids don’t deserve that. Nobody does,” said Kematch. “Change needs to happen with society. Slowly, I think it is happening slowly.”

He is one of several people dragging the river bottom with ropes and hooks for clues that could help investigators with unsolved murder cases.

“We do the best we can,” said Kematch. “The police said they would never ever search the river. For me, I believe it needs to be done. The water holds a lot of secrets.”

Kyle Kematch
Kyle Kematch marches with a banner for his sister Amber Guiboche. She has been missing since November 2010. (Michael Yellowwing Kannon)

Kematch said he thinks of his sister Amber Guiboche while he is on the boat. She disappeared in November of 2010.

“It helps me to know that it is being searched…. I wonder who is [in] here. Is she there? Is she not there?

Protection and Prevention

James Favel said the Bear Clan Patrol was reborn out of tragedy.

“Tina Fontaine’s murder was the ‘enough is enough’ moment for me,” said Favel.

Favel said he remembered the Bear Clan patrolling the North End in the 90s. He said that model worked, so he consulted the original members and with their blessing re-established the patrols.

Bear Clan crew
James favel (left), Jesse Leigh (centre) and Larry Morrissette (right). (Jaison Empson/CBC)

“There is so much more that needs to be done,” said Favel. “Bear Clan is my conduit and much bolder expression of what I wanted to see come to pass in our community.”

It took about nine months to get everything organized. The group consulted with police before it hit the streets for the first patrol on Aug. 13.

“We’ve already noticed a difference in the behaviour in our community since our patrols have started,” said Favel. “Last weekend I was out on Friday evening and we didn’t see any young women out on the streets in our community at all.”

Tina Fontaine Memorial
Painted stones with the seven sacred teachings sit at Tina Fontaine’s memorial at the Alexander Docks, where her body was pulled from the river. (Jillian Taylor)

Favel said the group is going after johns, men who come into the community to buy sex from vulnerable women. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is illegal to buy sex, but not to sell it.

Favel said in the North End, the exploited women are part of the community and deserve protection.

“We have a good communication with the police. We take down the licence plates of johns’ and we forward that on to our contacts at the Winnipeg police and they investigate.”

Favel said right now the group is patrolling four times a week, three hours at a time. In September they will start day patrols to keep an eye on kids, because it’s children like Fontaine they want to protect.

“Tina Fontaine’s death was a tragedy, but it inspired this movement in our city,” said Favel. “Tragedy brings strength in some occasions — this is one of those occasions.”

Tina Fontaine

Her final hours

CBC News has discovered new details about the final hours of murdered teen, Tina Fontaine. In the days before her murder, Fontaine was in contact with several different authorities; the Winnipeg Police Service, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, and Child and Family Services.

  • July 31, 2014

Where’s Tina?

Tina Fontaine, 15, is reported missing to the Winnipeg Police Service on July 31. Tina’s aunt, Lana Fontaine, tells CBC News the girl was staying with her during the August long weekend in Winnipeg (Aug. 1-5). On Aug. 5, Tina calls her Child and Family Services worker, the aunt says, adding that members of CFS and the Winnipeg Police Service then arrive and pick Tina up. What would happen to the teen in the days following remains unclear, but she remained a missing youth.

  • August 8, 2014

Arrives at youth centre

In the wee hours of Aug. 8, Fontaine and a friend drop into Macdonald Youth Services emergency shelter on Mayfair Avenue for a bite to eat and to use the washroom. The friend tells CBC News she asked the centre to keep Fontaine overnight. However, Fontaine didn’t want to stay, and she refused to give her real name. MYS would not say what type of help was offered.

  • August 8, 2014

Police make contact

Shortly after leaving Macdonald Youth Services, police make contact with Fontaine when they pull over a truck at 3 a.m. The driver was impaired. Fontaine was a passenger in the truck and police let her go.

  • August 8, 2014

Paramedics find Fontaine

Later that day, members of Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service members respond to a call and find Fontaine drunk and passed out in alley near Ellice Avenue (upper left on map). She is taken to hospital, treated and released into the care of Child and Family Services. CFS checks Fontaine into a room at the Best Western Charterhouse hotel near York Avenue and Hargrave Street (lower right), but she leaves the hotel. Sometime on Aug. 8, the Winnipeg Police Service is informed that Fontaine has been found.

  • August 9, 2014

Tina reported missing again

After leaving the Charterhouse hotel, Tina Fontaine is reported missing once again.

  • August 9, 2014

Tina last seen

Back on the streets, Fontaine meets a friend and are hanging out on Ellice Avenue. The friend tells CBC News a man approached and offered money in exchange for a sex act. The friend says Fontaine accepted the offer, and told her she would be back in 15 minutes. Fontaine walks away with the man. Friends and family never see Fontaine alive again.

  • August 17, 2014

A tragic end

Police pull the body of Tina Fontaine from the Red River. The body was wrapped in a bag. The Winnipeg police homicide unit begins its investigation.

  • August 20, 2014

A city mourns

Hundreds attend a vigil for Fontaine at the Alexander Docks where her body was found. The girl’s murder sparks renewed cries for a national inquiry into missing and murdered women.

  • September 3, 2014

Chief informed

Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis says he is made aware of the contact made between police officers and Tina Fontaine on Aug. 8.

  • September 25, 2014

Chief goes public

After mounting pressure from media outlets, Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis releases details of the internal investigation. Clunis says the officers who made contact with Fontaine on Aug. 8 have been reassigned while an investigation takes place.

  • March 24, 2015

Officers won’t face charges

Winnipeg police announce the officers who saw and spoke with Tina Fontaine before the 15-year-old girl disappeared, but let her go, will not face charges. Still the police service says it has launched disciplinary proceedings against the officers and suspended one of them without pay. The other officer remains on administrative leave.

  • June 26, 2015

Officer returns to work

One of the two Winnipeg police officers who last had contact with Tina Fontaine before she disappeared returns to duty. The other officer remains suspended without pay.

By Jillian Taylor, CBC News, Posted: Aug 16, 2015