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'She was everything to me': Tina Fontaine's tragic death prompts call for change

Last Updated Feb 17, 2021 at 7:39 am MDT

Summary

Fontaine went missing in July 2014, after leaving for a visit to see her mother in Winnipeg


In August of 2014, her body was found wrapped in plastic and a duvet cover in Winnipeg's Red River


Fontaine's led to renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women


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Thelma Favel still keeps her grandniece Tina Fontaine’s room exactly the way she left it more than six years ago.

“I don’t even want to touch anything in here, like to paint it, because this was her room,” Favel said.

“She was everything to me.”

Favel cared for Fontaine for most of the 15-year-old’s life. She took her in after Fontaine’s father was diagnosed with cancer. He was later beaten to death.

Fontaine went missing in July 2014, after leaving for a visit to see her mother in Winnipeg.

“She asked me if she can go spend a week … with their mom. I told her, ‘If your grades go up’,” Favel said. “She kept up her end of the bargain. So I had to.”

“And she said, ‘I’ll see you in a week’… That’s the last I ever spoke to Tina.”

In August of that year, Fontaine’s body was found wrapped in plastic and a duvet cover in Winnipeg’s Red River.

After a year-and-a-half investigation, police arrested and charged Raymond Cormier, 53, with second-degree murder. In February 2018, a jury found him not guilty.

After the trial ended, more than 1,000 people marched for change in honour of Fontaine. Her death led to renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Favel still talks to Tina everyday through a big picture of her hanging in her living room.

“I get up in the morning. I say, ‘Good morning, my baby.’ And when I go to bed at night, I’ll say, ‘Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.'”

“To me she’s not really gone. She lives in my heart. And she’ll always be alive,” Favel said.

According to a report into Fontaine’s death, the teen asked for help in the weeks before she was found dead in the Red River, but social agencies told her there were no beds available.

The report by Manitoba children’s advocate, Daphne Penrose, said that essentially left Fontaine homeless and at risk for sexual exploitation.

The child advocate’s report also looked into the sexual exploitation of the province’s youth — something Penrose said Manitoba has a “shameful reputation for.”

Penrose made five recommendations, which she said need to be acted on quickly because children and youth are still facing the same risks and getting the same responses as Fontaine.