Tina Fontaine died because police, CFS failed her, family says

Police officers saw and spoke to Tina Fontaine on the last night the 15-year-old was seen alive in Winnipeg, before her body was found in the Red River in August.

Officers investigated after having contact with — and letting go of — teen who was reported missing

Fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine's body was recovered from the Red River on Aug. 17. Police saw her on the last night she was seen alive in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Police officers saw and spoke to Tina Fontaine within 24 hours of the 15-year-old going missing for the final time in Winnipeg.

Her body was found in the Red River August 17.

Police Chief Devon Clunis told media on Thursday that officers came across Fontaine as part of a traffic stop on Aug. 8. She was in a car being driven by a man who was allegedly drunk.

"They took the drunk driver, but they let everybody else go who was in the car," said Thelma Favel, Fontaine's great-aunt and caregiver for much of her short life.

I am angry. I am hurt. My baby might still be here instead of buried on top of her dad. I don't know.- Thelma Favel

The officers let her go even though she was known to be missing. Fontaine's body was later pulled from the river on Aug. 17.

"I just can't describe it how I am still feeling, knowing that if they did their jobs, my baby might still be here," said Favel, who lives in Sagkeeng First Nation, northeast of Winnipeg.

That's where Fontaine had lived most of her life, until she ran away on July 1. She came to Winnipeg and when Favel couldn't find her after a week, she called in Child and Family Services. She voluntarily placed her in CFS care.

Police said today Fontaine was reported missing July 31.

Favel said the police service's lead homicide officer called her Wednesday at about 5 p.m., informing her an internal investigation was going on.

Clunis told reporters he found out about the two officers' contact with Fontaine on Sept. 3, and said they have since been reassigned as the investigation into their actions takes place.

"They ran her name through the system. They took her name down — she didn't lie about who she was," Favel said about the two officers. "How can you not know? It should have came up she was a missing girl, but they just let her go.

"I don't even know, like I can't find words right now. I am angry. I am hurt. My baby might still be here instead of buried on top of her dad," she added.

Frustrated with CFS

Favel, who last saw Fontaine on July 1, said Child and Family Services (CFS) also let Fontaine down.

The teen had been acting out for a few months before she ran away from Sagkeeng. When that happened, Favel contacted CFS and requested the agency take custody of Fontaine.

Someone with the agency located Fontaine and placed her in care in Winnipeg. After that, Favel said, information on Fontaine was infrequent.

They didn’t even call her when Fontaine’s body was found, she said.

“On the 15th I called her worker to see, because I hadn't heard from her for a while. I just wanted to find out how Tina was doing,” Favel said.

“She said she was sorry she forgot to tell me Tina had been AWOL for two weeks already.”

Found in an alley

Favel also found out a CFS worker had contact with Fontaine the same day the police saw her for the final time.

Paramedics had picked the teen up from an alley, where she was passed out. Fontaine was transported to the Winnipeg Children's Hospital and then released to a CFS worker.

The worker didn't know where to take her, Favel said.

The worker stopped at an office and went in to get the address and left Fontaine in the car. She was later taken to a hotel and went missing from there.

"There is no sense. They just don't care. Nobody seems to care when it comes to aboriginal children," Favel said. "As long as they get their paycheques and do a little bit of work and make a couple of phone calls.

"It did give me peace to know that I thought they were trying to do something," she added, referring to the police investigation into Fontaine's death.

"But now when this came out last night, I see there was nobody there for her or for us."