Raymond Joseph Cormier, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg last year.
Fontaine's body was found in a bag in the river near the Alexander Docks on Aug. 17, 2014, eight days after she was reported missing.
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Cormier, who is originally from New Brunswick but lived in Winnipeg for several years, was arrested Wednesday in the Vancouver area, police said Friday afternoon.
He remains in custody in Vancouver while arrangements are made to send him back to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg police deputy chief Danny Smyth said Cormier and Fontaine knew each other, as they both frequented a home in the east side of the city.
"It is believed that Tina and Cormier had several encounters, and that he murdered her on their last encounter," Smyth told reporters.
Police would not elaborate on the relationship between the two, including whether it was a sexual relationship.
"Tina was a child and an exploited child and, you know, I think to be fair to the investigation and the upcoming court proceedings, we're not going to make any comments about what form of exploitation went on there," said Sgt. John O'Donovan, the lead investigator in the case.
"There was definitely some exploitation going on, and not just by [the] accused here but several other people."
Until now, no arrests had been announced in Fontaine's death. Police say they are not looking for any other suspects at this time.
'There's a lot that's been lifted'
Thelma Favel, Fontaine's great-aunt, said she had mixed emotions upon learning that someone has been arrested.
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"I was so happy for myself and my family, but also feeling sad for the other women who are still waiting to hear news," she said, her voice breaking.
Favel added that the arrest brings some closure.
"It's not going to stop until the court's over and then I think I will have the closure," she said. "But I know that there's a lot that's been lifted …"
Favel and her husband, Joseph Favel, cared for Fontaine, who was from Sagkeeng First Nation northeast of Winnipeg, for part of her life.
At the time of the teen's disappearance, she was in Winnipeg, in the care of Manitoba's child-welfare system. Smyth said Fontaine had run away on Aug. 8, 2014, from a hotel where she was being housed in care.
Two police officers saw and spoke with the girl that day, after they stopped a vehicle that she was in, but they let her go.
Both officers were later disciplined. On Friday, police said one of the officers has since returned to active duty while the other is no longer an officer but is still employed by the police department.
At least 92 prior convictions
Cormier has at least 92 past criminal convictions in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, according to court documents obtained by CBC News.
"These convictions have ranged from simple breaches to serious violent offences. He has been in and out of correctional institutions throughout his life," said Smyth.
The second-degree murder charge was laid based on evidence gathered through "forensic examinations, witness interviews and covert operations," Smyth said.
O'Donovan said Cormier became a person of interest in September 2014, along with other people.
"There certainly was no shortage of suspects in this case, and it's definitely not a case of tunnel vision," he said.
"I mean, we were faced with numerous people here that we had to fully investigate, and by doing that we were able to eliminate them as supsects."
O'Donovan said a 911 call Fontaine made to police in July in which she reported a friend's truck stolen helped in the investigation.
"Once we were able to identify that it was Tina — because we could put her at a certain place at a certain time on a certain day — what came from that afterwards certainly helped advance our investigation," he said.
Tips from the public helped investigators, he added.
"People came to us. They never stopped coming to us with information," O'Donovan said. "Right up until a couple of weeks ago, people were coming forward with information."
Fontaine's death 'galvanized a nation,' says minister
Tina Fontaine's death sparked public outcry and renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls — an inquiry the new Liberal government is launching.
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Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she learned of the arrest as she met with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to discuss plans for the inquiry.
"Tina Fontaine's death galvanized a nation," Bennett told reporters in Ottawa.
Nahanni Fontaine, the Manitoba government's special adviser on aboriginal women's issues, was also in Ottawa for talks related to the national inquiry when she learned of the arrest.
"Tina Fontaine's death literally sprouted all of those seeds in the public consciousness and in the spirit of Canadians across the country, and her death was that connecting force for all of us," she said.
Manitoba's children's advocate, Darlene MacDonald, said her office is waiting for the criminal proceedings to conclude before it can finish its own investigation into Fontaine's disappearance and death.
"It is not merely a tragic coincidence that Tina was an indigenous girl, involved in the child welfare system, who police have described to have been vulnerable, exploited, and ultimately murdered," MacDonald said in a statement.
"I hope that we can honour Tina, and her family, by learning from what they have experienced, and committing ourselves to the work of ending the violence being committed against so many indigenous women and girls."
News of the arrest was welcomed by Willie Starr, the brother of Jennifer Catcheway, another indigenous girl who went missing in June 2008 and has never been found.
"It's just amazing and I'm overjoyed for them. It's emotional," Starr said.