WINNIPEG — A man has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Manitoba teenager whose fate galvanized calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women.
Tina Fontaine was just 15 years old when her body, wrapped in a bag, was found in the Red River in August 2014. She was supposed to have been in a group or foster home in Winnipeg, but she had run away.
Winnipeg police say Raymond Joseph Cormier, 53, was arrested in Vancouver this week. He remained in custody on Friday while arrangements were being made to return him to Winnipeg.
“Investigators know that Tina was highly vulnerable and was exploited during her time on the run,” deputy police Chief Danny Smyth said Friday.
“Investigators discovered that Tina frequented a residence on the east side of the city. Investigators also discovered that Raymond Cormier often frequented that same residence.
“It’s believed that Tina and Cormier were acquainted.”
Smyth said Cormier is originally from New Brunswick but has lived in Winnipeg for some years. Smyth said Cormier has a long criminal history with convictions across the country that include violent offences.
Calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women intensified after Fontaine’s death, but the previous Harper government refused to hold one. The new federal Liberal government announced this week that it will go ahead.
“The murder of this child — and let’s not forget she was a child — has shocked and outraged our community. And I think that outrage has resonated across the nation,” Smyth said.
Tina had spent much of her life with her great-aunt Thelma Favel on the Sagkeeng First Nation, about 70 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The girl had a history of running away and went to Winnipeg about a month before her death to visit her biological mother.
Favel had asked a child-welfare agency for help with Tina.
The girl was in a vehicle pulled over by two officers more than a week after she was reported missing, but she was not taken into custody. Her body was found nine days later.
Police said their investigation had not determined whether the officers knew Tina’s identity at the time, or whether they were aware she had been reported missing.
Favel said the officers did know the girl had been reported missing. She said that social workers told her that on that night — a few hours after police came across Tina — the girl was found passed out in an alley downtown. Paramedics took her to a nearby hospital.
Favel said Tina was kept for a few hours until she sobered up, then social workers picked her up at the hospital.
She ran away again and was found in the river a little over a week later.
“She’s a child. This is a child that’s been murdered,” Sgt. O’Donovan said when Tina’s body was found.
“Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified.”
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