Tina Fontaine's death: agony for a family, an awakening for a country

It took police 16 months to make an arrest in the Tina Fontaine case. She is one 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, many whose cases remain unsolved. What made her death so different?

A 53-year-old man has been charged with second degree murder in connection with the death of Tina Fontaine

Tina Fontaine's great-aunt, Thelma Favel, said she loves this picture of her baby girl because it's the girl she raised, not lost. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)

It took 16 months to crack the case. A 53-year-old man is charged with second degree murder in connection with a 15-year-old who was killed and thrown in the Red River.

Those were 16 long, agonizing months for Tina Fontaine's family and friends.

For the indigenous community, it was 16 frustrating months.

For Canada, it was 16 months of awakening.

Looking back to when her body was found on Aug. 17, 2014, when Winnipeg police called that emotional press conference, when thousands of people gathered at the Alexander Docks; her death meant something.

Tina Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014. Her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17. (Facebook)
"It touched a lot of us, even shook our world," said Elder Chickadee Richard. "I was in British Columbia at the time and it shook the people there and it shook North America, knowing that someone was out there doing that."

Tina's murder went from being another sad statistic to a collective call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

The call from the indigenous community got louder as Canadians joined in.  It became an election issue, a promise, and now a reality. 

On Tuesday, the first phase of the inquiry was announced. Four days later, the arrest was made public in Tina's case.

Richard has been working to draw attention to violence against indigenous women for three decades. She said baby steps are being made in seeing indigenous women's lives as valuable.

"To me, I think society is trying to see who we are as a people," she said. "That we are equal, that we're human beings, we are all sacred."

Six years, and waiting

Cherisse Houle was 17 years old when her body was found outside Winnipeg.

Barb Houle has been waiting six years for an arrest in her daughter's murder. 

Cherisse Houle was 17-years-old when her body was found outside of Winnipeg. (Facebook)
She said she was relieved to hear an arrest had been made in Tina's case.

"I'm so happy for that family. Now their family can have some peace," said Houle. "In a way, you wish it was your family that police were coming to tell."

Houle said it doesn't matter how long it takes for police to make an arrest, just matters that an arrest is made. But she admits, it's hard waiting.

"Well they can't exactly tell you if they have a person of interest or not," said Houle. "I've been asking those questions to the investigators who are investigating my daughter's murder and they can't tell me anything."

​​Police said tips from the public is what helped them arrest Raymond Cormier and charge him with second degree murder in connection with Tina Fontaine's death.

Houle said that gives her hope that society will also bring tips forward in Cherisse's case.

"Now that the public is talking about it more and the awareness is out there that is why I think this arrest was made," said Houle. "I think that with all the attention that all these cases are getting nowadays [is] because police are paying extra attention to them now,"

Houle wants people to remember that there are at least 1,200 families out there, many without answers.

"If anybody knows something about any of these cases, these families need answers," she said. "I truly need answers for my daughter's death."


Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor