Former police officer who saw Tina Fontaine hours before she disappeared says he 'could have done better'

The trial of the man accused of killing 15-year-old Tina Fontaine heard from several adults who had contact with the teen in the days before she disappeared.

Former Winnipeg police officers, boyfriend testified at Raymond Cormier's 2nd-degree murder trial Tuesday

Tina Fontaine's body was found in the Red River wrapped in a duvet cover near the Alexander Docks in August of 2014. (CBC)

The trial of the man accused of killing 15-year-old Tina Fontaine heard from several adults on Tuesday who had contact with the teen in the days before she disappeared, along with a witness who testified that he dated Tina Fontaine the summer of her death and that Raymond Cormier gave them both drugs.

The witnesses on Tuesday, the seventh day of Raymond Cormier's second-degree murder trial, included a former Winnipeg police officer who told the court he "could have done better" when he and his partner let Tina go after they found her inside a vehicle they had pulled over on the morning of Aug. 8, 2014.

The 15-year-old was last reported seen on Aug. 8 at the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, where she had been placed as a ward of Child and Family Services.

On Aug. 17, 2014, her body was pulled from the Red River near the Alexander Docks, wrapped in a duvet cover weighed down with rocks. Cormier, 56, has been pleaded not guilty to killing the teen. His case is being heard by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and a jury of eight women and four men.

On the morning of Aug. 8, 2014, Cornelis Brock Jansen — a constable with eight years of experience working general patrol — was on patrol with Craig Houle, a new recruit who had been on the job for a few weeks.

Shortly after 5 a.m., they were patrolling in the Spence neighbourhood when they spotted a black truck pulled over near Ellice Avenue and Furby Street, with a group of women standing beside the passenger side of the truck.

A courtroom sketch artist rendering of Cornelis Brock Jansen, one of two police officers who encountered Tina Fontaine in the last hours she was seen alive. (Tom Andrich)

The court was told when the police officers approached in their vehicle, the women walked away and the vehicle drove off. As they followed, Jansen said the driver started "behaving suspiciously", making turns in an apparent effort to evade the officers.

The officers pulled the vehicle over on Isabel Street and Jansen testified he approached the driver-side window and saw a female sitting in the passenger seat.

The officers arrested the man for driving with a suspended licence, and Jansen started talking to the female.

Jansen testified on Tuesday that at first, she gave him two fake names. Each time, Houle ran the names through the computer system and they came back with no matches.

Jansen said the girl then told him her name was Tina Fontaine. When Jansen asked her why she had given him fake names, she said she thought she might be in trouble.

Houle testified that when he ran her name through the computer system, her picture came up. He said he also saw that there was a previous missing person flag beside her name.

"Did it have an active flag?" Crown lawyer Jim Ross asked Houle.

"Not that I was aware of," Houle said.

A courtroom sketch artist rendering of Craig Houle, one of two police officers who encountered Fontaine in the last hours she was seen alive. (Tom Andrich)

Ross also asked Jansen if he was aware that Tina was missing at the time.

"In hindsight, not that I was aware of at the time," he said.

At the same time, Houle said the driver of the truck was becoming aggressive in the backseat of the cruiser, screaming, swearing and hitting the inside of the vehicle.

Jansen testified Tuesday that he was training a new recruit and dealing with an irate suspect, while his partner, Houle, ran Tina's name through the police computer system.

"At the time, my recruit [Houle] was quite new. I could have done a better job of overseeing him," Jansen said.

On Monday, court heard that Tina had gone missing twice while staying at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre in the North End. Missing person reports were filed both times — once on July 27 and again on July 30.

Jansen told court he asked Tina if she was OK and said she didn't seem to be in any distress.

When Jansen asked Tina where she was staying, she told him she was staying at the Quest Inn on Ellice Avenue. Jansen testified that at the time, the hotel was used by Child and Family Services to house wards.

He said he offered her a ride, but she declined and they let her go.

The driver of the truck, Richard Mohammed, also testified at the trial about the night he picked up Tina. Mohammed said he had an argument with his girlfriend and drove to the area of Sargent Avenue and Ellice Avenue to look for a "girl to hang out with."

He said he saw Tina on the sidewalk and asked her if she wanted to "party." He said he didn't know how old she was when she got into his truck.

He said after police arrested him, he never saw Tina again.

Both Jansen and Houle were suspended from the police force after the incident with Tina Fontaine came to light, and both later resigned from the force. Houle was also later charged on an unrelated matter involving possession of stolen property.

U of W security guard found Tina

Court also heard from a former University of Winnipeg security guard who found Tina lying on the ground unresponsive behind the Helen Betty Osborne Centre on Ellice Avenue around 10 a.m. on Aug. 8, hours after her encounter with police.

Audrey Kohinsky said the teen was dressed in a white shirt and short white cotton skirt, with a green fleece sweater, pink high-top sneakers and ankle socks. Kohinsky called paramedics after she was unable to wake Tina up.

When paramedics were able to rouse Tina, Kohinsky said she seemed disoriented.

"She was struggling with knowing where she was and who she was," she said, adding that the girl said her name was Tina Fontaine.

Kohinsky testified the teen had a blister on her lips and what appeared to be mosquito bites or cigarette burns on her leg.

"They looked really horrible. I was really concerned," she said.

Paramedics walked Tina to an ambulance and took her to hospital.

Witnesses saw Tina, Cormier together  

Also for the first time since the trial began, the jury heard from witnesses who testified they saw Tina Fontaine and Raymond Cormier together in the weeks before she died.

Cody Mason a, 21-year-old man from St. Theresa Point, said he and Tina dated that summer after meeting on the street, and told court that Cormier gave them drugs.

A courtroom sketch rendering of Cody Mason, right, who says Raymond Cormier gave him and Tina Fontaine a drug called gabapentin, or 'gabbies.' (Tom Andrich)

Mason said he and Tina were couch surfing and drinking on the street near Powers Avenue when they met Cormier, who was riding by on a bike when Mason said "Hey."

Mason said Cormier introduced himself as "Sebastian," a name police have said Cormier used.

Mason testified he asked Cormier if he and Tina could crash at his place, and Cormier took them to a house and let them sleep in the basement. He also said Cormier took them to several other houses.

Mason told the jury he and Tina snorted pills he called "gabbies" — a street name for the prescription drug gabapentin — which he alleged Cormier gave them in a tent on Alexander Avenue.

He testified he left Winnipeg Aug. 6 and lost contact with Tina.

Earlier Tuesday, the trial heard from Andre Lemaitre, who says he saw Tina with Raymond Cormier and another man who she said was her boyfriend, in July 2014.

Lemaitre said he was coming home from work to his apartment on Selkirk Avenue, when he saw the three people on the lawn outside his building.

He said Tina came up to him and said, "Can I have a cigarette please?" He said Tina told him she and her friends could get him "weed" and asked if she and her boyfriend could crash at his place some time.

Lemaitre gave Tina his phone number, but when she called him later that evening to ask if she could stay at his place, he said no because he was going to bed. He said he never heard from her again.

Raymond Cormier's five-week-long trial continues Wednesday.

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.

With files from Caroline Barghout