Janet Stewart: Candid cop puts spotlight on Tina Fontaine slaying

I went to the vigil in memory of Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall Tuesday night because I needed to express my sadness and share the outrage and anger I am feeling with others.

Sgt. John O'Donovan provided framework for city to take notice

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's body being pulled from the Red River. (Facebook)

It hasn’t been easy reading the news lately, and I’m sure it hasn’t been easy watching it. There have been so many sad stories to report.

I went to the vigil in memory of Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall Tuesday night because I needed to express my sadness and share the outrage and anger I am feeling with others. I wanted our aboriginal community to know this hurts me too. And I was thrilled to see hundreds of other non- aboriginal folks came out to say the exact same thing.

It felt powerful to be so united, to be one community, all going the same way. I hate the tragedies that pulled us there, but I love how that togetherness felt.

Sadly, our newsroom gets notifications from police about a girl who’s gone missing every week, sometimes a couple of times a week. A day or two later we usually get a second release saying they’ve been found.

When Tina Fontaine disappeared, that good news never came. Instead police sent out more photos, recent ones, showing her haircut, shaved on one side. It was clear they were worried about her.

After officers found her body, the press conference delivering that news was different, too.

Usually we only hear from one of the Winnipeg Police Service’s public information officers. They’re trained to deliver information in an objective manner that will not in any way compromise an investigation.

This time, in Tina’s case, they gave us access to more. Someone else spoke too, an officer directly involved in the investigation, from the homicide unit.

As streamed Sgt. John O’Donovan’s comments live, everyone in the newsroom was glued to their screens. O’Donovan talked about Tina as a person, not a crime statistic, and it was gripping.

He said, “She's a petite little thing, just turned 15. Barely in the city for a little over a month.”

Then he drilled down to the essence of the tragedy: “She’s a child.This is a child that’s been murdered. I think that society, we’d be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child, so I mean, society should be horrified.”

One of my CBC workmates suggested Wednesday that the way O’Donovan immediately put a human face to this story helped the city connect with it.

Const. Jason Michalyshen agreed, and he said people on the force are upset by the story, too.

“We may be in uniform,  we may be doing jobs, but we have young daughters. We have grandchildren. We have people in our lives too, and I think this strikes a chord for everyone," he said.

Rest in peace, Tina. We’re all thinking of you.


Janet Stewart

Host, CBC News: Winnipeg

Janet Stewart hosts CBC News Winnipeg at 5, 5:30 & 6 p.m. on CBC Television. After moving to Winnipeg from her native Nova Scotia in 2001, Janet has immersed herself in the city and is proud to call Winnipeg home. She has made connecting with the community one of her top priorities, lending her time and energy to many organizations.


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