In 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s 72-pound body was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River, wrapped in a blanket belonging to Raymond Cormier, 56. On Thursday, Cormier was found not guilty of murder, despite being linked to Fontaine by various witnesses, despite Fontaine’s own 911 call reporting him for vehicle theft, and despite the fact that he bragged about having sex with her and was the subject of an undercover sting operation after her death. The verdict immediately promulgated the hashtag #justicefortinafontaine, and her image, the face of endemic unpunished violence against and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls. Demonstrations and vigils were held Friday evening throughout Canada in her honor.
Fontaine’s own father was beaten to death in 2011, which Tina’s aunt Robyn Fontaine has attributed in an interview with CBC to her struggles with homelessness and drug use, which led to her acquaintance with Raymond Cormier. Encounters with the police and Child and Family Services failed to save her. Days before her death, Tina was hospitalized after she was found collapsed in a parking lot, but she was released hours later.
In 2014, Fontaine’s death inspired volunteer organizations Drag the Red and Bear Clan Patrol, who have taken it upon themselves to search for bodies. In 2014 alone, seven bodies were reportedly found in the Red River where Tina’s was dredged up.
“We were already looking at models, but Tina was the last straw,” Bear Clan Patrol executive director James Favel told Jezebel. “Multiple system failures led to this.” He points to the fact that while Fontaine was reported missing, police found her in a car full of adults; Fontaine gave them her name and told them she felt she was in trouble, but they simply removed the driver for having a suspended license and let her go. (The CBC has compiled extensive timeline of Fontaine’s encounters with government agencies).
Soon after co-founding Bear Clan Patrol, he says they discovered the body of 14-year-old Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace hanging from a tree near a hospital where she had just been released from suicide watch.
“My daughter coming and going from school can’t wait at the bus stop alone,” he added. “People [men] would try to pick her up on her way to school–even when she had her baby with her. People don’t call the police [to report this kind of thing] anymore because it’s become so normalized in our community.”
Favel claims that since 2014, Bear Clan Patrol membership has jumped from 12 to over 1,000 volunteers in the Winnipeg area alone.
In 2016, the Canadian government launched an independent national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which has tallied police reports of 164 missing and 1,017 homicide victims between 1980 and 2012–though the real number of missing women is likely much higher, the CBC reports. Aboriginal women report that they are 3.5 times more likely to suffer violence and abuse, the inquiry finds.
In a statement, Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman said “There’s no question in my mind that we all failed Tina. And we are all continuing to fail other young Indigenous people in communities across our country.”
Fontaine’s isn’t even the only such verdict this month. On February 9th, a white man named Gerald Stanley, 56, was found not guilty after shooting Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man who had come to Stanley’s farm in need of a help in replacing flat tire.
The BBC notes that “[t]he jury who delivered the verdict had no visible Indigenous members.”