Manitoba

Everyone must 'confront the shame and tragedy of our country's racism': Winnipeg mayor

Winnipeg's mayor urged Canadians to "confront the shame and tragedy" of racism, the province pledged to end the marginalization of Indigenous women and Ottawa called levels of violence unacceptable following the trial of Raymond Cormier.

Governments and Winnipeg Police Service react to acquittal in Tina Fontaine homicide

In the days before her death, Fontaine was in contact with the Winnipeg Police Service, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Child and Family Services.

Winnipeg's mayor urged Canadians to "confront the shame and tragedy" of racism, the province pledged to end the marginalization of Indigenous women and Ottawa called levels of violence unacceptable following the trial of Raymond Cormier.

On Thursday, a jury in Winnipeg found Cormier, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 death of Tina Fontaine, 15, of Sagkeeng First Nation.

Fontaine's body was found on the banks of the Red River in a case that increased the luminosity of the national spotlight on the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls.

In the days before her murder, Fontaine was in contact with the Winnipeg Police Service, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Child and Family Services. 

Mayor: 'We all failed Tina'

After the verdict, Mayor Brian Bowman's office issued a statement declaring "we all failed Tina" and challenged Canadians to do better.

"Winnipeggers and Canadians may have differing views on today's outcome in this case. I think it is important, however, to be mindful that for many people, today is a day marked by grief, anger, and broken hearts," Bowman said in the statement.

"No one can be blind to the racial tensions in our country. The work of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is shedding light onto a dark past of violence and a history of racism in Canada.

"All of us have a responsibility to challenge racism and discrimination when we see it. And all of us need to work to repair the broken relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people."
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says Canadians are continuing to fail young Indigenous people across the country. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Bowman went on to say there is no question in his mind Canadians are continuing to fail young Indigenous people across the country.

"Until we all confront the shame and tragedy of our country's racism and treatment of Indigenous people, we will fall short of that great country we know Canada to be," the mayor said in his statement.

"Despite how many in our community may be feeling today, now is not the time to let our pain, our fear, or our prejudices hold us back. Now is not the time for the commitment we all made as a country many years ago — a commitment to peace and partnership with Indigenous people — to be interrupted or forgotten."

Province: 'This is not the end'

In the wake of the verdict, Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government pledged to reduce the violence against Indigenous women and girls

"The death of Tina Fontaine is a horrible tragedy for all Manitobans. My heart is with her family as they continue to grieve the loss of their beautiful 15-year-old girl," Attorney General Heather Stefanson said in a statement.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specifics of this matter as it is still before the courts. There is an appeal period of 30 days for this verdict and I want to show respect for that process," Stefanson said.
Justice Minister Heather Stefanson says 'this is not the end of the discussion about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.' (CBC)

"This is not the end of the discussion about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. There have been far too many victims both in our province and across the country.

"Our government will never give up on our work to end the marginalization and violence that too many Indigenous women and girls experience in Manitoba."

In a tweet, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said "We have to do better."

Ottawa: Unacceptable violence

Carolyn Bennett, Canada's minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said in a statement the level of violence against Indigenous women and girls is unacceptable.

Bennett said Fontaine's death "galvanized our whole country to demand measures that would stop the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," adding Fontaine's death underscores the need to complete the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"The families of these women and girls – and the whole country – need answers to the systemic and institutional failures that led to the murder of Tina Fontaine and far too many other Indigenous daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties and friends," Bennett said in the statement.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the whole country needs 'answers to the systemic and institutional failures that led to the murder of Tina Fontaine.' (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"We need to examine all the factors that lead to these violence acts, including: policing, child welfare, health care and the social and economic conditions. As a society, we can and must do better to improve outcomes for Indigenous girls and women."

Police: Rare comment following trial

​​In another sign of the national significance of the Cormier trial, the Winnipeg Police Service took the unusual step of commenting following the release of the verdict.

"We understand that this is a difficult time for Tina Fontaine's family, our community, and all those personally affected by her loss. Our thoughts today are with everyone impacted by this tragedy," the police service said. 

"The Winnipeg Police Service conducted an extensive investigation into the murder of Tina Fontaine. Generally after a trial, the case — including the court proceedings themselves — will be examined to determine if an appeal is possible or appropriate.

"While that process is ongoing, we have made the decision to not comment on this case directly."