Final Tina Fontaine report will take months: child advocate
Province will change legislation to allow report's release at advocate's discretion
The province's children's advocate says it will be months before a report is released into how Child and Family Services handled Tina Fontaine's case — and it will be released only after a change to provincial law and at her discretion.
Daphne Penrose, Manitoba's children's advocate, says she has not committed to releasing her office's special report, and wouldn't be able to do so unless Manitoba's legislation changes before the report is completed.
"But once the new legislation comes in, I am able to release a summary of the report with the confidential information sort of redacted from that," Penrose said Tuesday. "Certainly I will be providing the information that the public needs to know."
Manitoba's current legislation forbids the children's advocate from releasing special reports publicly, but that will be changed, according to a spokesperson for Families Minister Scott Fielding.
"The province is involved as current legislation prohibits OCA [the Office of the Children's Advocate] from releasing such reports, but once we proclaim the Advocate's Act, she will be allowed to release it," said Andrea Slobodian, Fielding's press secretary.
Should the special report into Fontaine's case be completed before the law is changed, a "transitional clause" could be inserted to allow Penrose to release it, Slobodian says.
There is currently no date for the legislation to be introduced, Slobodian says, only saying it will happen soon.
Fontaine,15, was found dead in August 2014 after she ran away from a hotel in downtown Winnipeg where she was being housed, a ward of the province.
Her body was found more than a week later wrapped in a duvet cover in the river. The Indigenous girl's death helped spark the MMIWG movement across the country. The man accused of murdering her, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty last week.
While a case is before the courts, OCA powers of investigation are limited. As the Crown has 30 days to appeal the Cormier case, they have been focusing on other aspects of the investigation, Penrose says.
Once those 30 days are exhausted, Penrose says, she and her team will be looking to do more interviews and begin to access information they couldn't before.
"So it will be a couple of months before we are done," she said.
The new legislation will allow Penrose to release the findings of her investigation and future investigations, but only if releasing the information will not cause undue harm to a family member or child related to it, she says.
This may lead to sections of the report being redacted to protect people's privacy, Penrose says, but that doesn't mean vital information will be missing.
"Most certainly, I will be talking about, once the report is done, the concerns that I have with what happened in this particular case," she said.
Reports that have been redacted to the point of uselessness is a possibility that Mary Burton, co-founder of the child welfare advocacy group Fearless R2W, is worried about.
"That is a big concern," she said. "If they don't release the entire report, it's not going to do anybody any good."
Spark of change
Still, Burton says, publicly releasing special reports from the OCA is a step in the right direction.
"I hope that it changes things. The system is broken. I've said it many times, the system is broken and it's failing our young people, and I hope that it brings change for everybody.
"Now people will be able to see what's going on behind closed doors," Burton added. "There's so much secrecy and confidentiality issues that it's hard to do anything for our children who are in care."
It's understandable that people are hoping the possible release of her report into Fontaine's case will bring closure to families who hope the girl's death will spark change, Penrose says.
"What I can tell you is that we will go out and look at the services that were or were not provided to Tina and develop recommendations based on that, on those services or the lack thereof," she said.
Once those recommendations are made, Penrose says, the OCA will be able to publicly track the province's compliance with those and future recommendations to improve the province's child welfare system.
"So the opportunities for change are present and the public needs to know what is happening in the public services for our children in Manitoba."
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and The Canadian Press