Release of confidential details in Tina Fontaine report could hurt surviving kin, Indigenous groups say

Two Indigenous organizations say they're concerned about the release of sensitive information in the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth's report on Tina Fontaine, and the impact it could have on surviving family members.

Children's advocate says details were necessary and sanctioned by Fontaine's family

Tara Petti, CEO of the Southern First Nations Network of Care, says the organization is concerned that the Manitoba Advocate's inclusion of details about the 'unfortunate circumstances' of Tina Fontaine's family could negatively impact the well-being of surviving family members. (CBC)

Two Indigenous organizations say they're concerned about the release of sensitive information in the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth's report about Tina Fontaine and the impact it could have on surviving family members.

But the advocate says her team met with members of Fontaine's family during their investigation, who asked them not to remove any details before it was released.

In a news release Wednesday, the Southern Chiefs' Organization and Southern First Nations Network of Care said they do not support the release of what they say is "confidential information" in the Manitoba Advocate's reports, pointing to Daphne Penrose's most recent report about Tina and the circumstances that led to the teen's death.

That report included some details about Tina's parents and siblings, including that the 15-year-old's mother was sexually exploited while in the care of Child and Family Services agencies, but that the agencies did little to intervene.

Tara Petti, CEO of Southern First Nations Network of Care, which oversees 10 First Nations child welfare agencies in Manitoba, said the organization's primary concern is that revealing the family's "unfortunate circumstances" could negatively impact their well-being.

"They have to continue to walk on this Earth and to live a life. They are already burdened by their history, by the terrible loss of their family member, and all of the media around that," she said.

"And now we have a sanctioned body that can release public information and is choosing to release it in a way that can continuously harm our family members and our children."

Petti acknowledged that the advocate has a complex job to do, but would like to see her do more in the future to ensure her reports do no harm to surviving family members of the children involved, and do more to highlight the impact of Canada's treatment of Indigenous people.

"We have requested the advocate take that into consideration, and not have to go into sordid details of the families' past and issues that they dealt with, but really look at it from the light of, this is a result of the impact of our history," she said.

Family asked that details not be removed, advocate says

In the report's introduction, Penrose acknowledged that the decision to include information on people other than Tina "expose[ed] them to the possibility of undeserved or ignorant criticism for the casual reader who is intent on casting blame."

Not including them, however, would give an incomplete picture of the forces that shaped Tina's life, she wrote.

In an emailed response, Penrose said her team met with some of Tina's family members during the course of their investigation. 

"The family we met with endorsed the report and its full contents, and asked us not to remove any of its details before it was released to the public," she said. 

New legislation came into effect last March that changed the role of Manitoba's children's advocate beyond child welfare, allowing her to examine other services provided to youth in care, such as education, health and justice, and to publicly release the findings of her office's investigations.

Under the new Advocate for Children and Youth Act, the advocate can compel a public body or other person to provide any information they have — including personal information and personal health information — necessary to enable her to carry out her responsibilities. 

Penrose added that while provincial legislation limits the public release of any CFS-related information, the Manitoba advocate is a legal exception to that rule.

In Tina Fontaine's case, Penrose said she felt it was in the public's best interest to understand some of the context of the teen's life, "partly because the barriers to service that Tina experienced four years ago are still the reality for children today."

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs renewed its call for an independent inquiry into Tina's death following the release of Penrose's extensive report last week. But the province said it wants to move on and focus on the recommendations made in the report.