Tina Fontaine's great-aunt shocked by sex-trafficking charges against girl's cousin

Tina Fontaine’s great aunt says she was shocked to hear the girl’s cousin had been charged in a sex trafficking case and that Tina spent time at the home where the alleged incidents took place.

Tina Fontaine spent weekend at suite now at centre of sex trafficking charges, cousin charged

Tina Fontaine, 15, was discovered in a bag in the Red River in August 2014. Winnipeg police believe she was a victim of homicide. To date, no one has been charged in her death. (Family photo)

Tina Fontaine's great aunt says she was shocked to hear the girl's cousin had been charged in a sex trafficking case and that Tina spent time at the apartment building where the alleged incidents took place.

The 15-year-old girl's body was pulled from the Red River in August 2014. Winnipeg police say she was killed, and there have been no arrests or charges laid in her death.

At the time of her death, Tina was supposed to be in the care of child and family services, but she had run away.

CBC has learned Tina spent time in the weeks leading up to her death at the apartment building of her aunt and cousin – where the Crown is now alleging a 17-year-old girl was held against her will and trafficked for sex for about 10 days. 
The Crown alleges a 17-year-old girl was brought to this Furby Street apartment building in Winnipeg on May 20 and was subsequently trafficked for sex with up to 50 men over the course of weeks. Tina Fontaine spent her last weekend alive in the apartment. (CBC)

 "[My brother] said, 'Did you see the news? And I said, 'No, why?' and he said, 'Jeanenne is on there and something to do with Tina,' and I said, 'What?' After I seen it, I was just shocked," said Thelma Favel.

Favel cared for Tina before she was placed in CFS care.

Tina's cousin Jeanenne Fontaine has been charged with trafficking a person under the age of 18. Two other men were also charged, and a fourth accused has yet to be arrested.

The Crown alleges the incidents took place at Jeanenne Fontaine's apartment and her mother's apartment (Tina's aunt) in the same building and in other locations. 

Favel said she's not close to Jeanenne Fontaine's side of the family. Favel is Jeanenne's mother's aunt, making Tina her great-niece.

"I just don't know what to think," said Favel. "I just feel so sorry for that little girl."

Favel said she's trying to make sense of the charges, and Tina's time in the apartment.

She said she plans to talk to Winnipeg police about the charges in relation to Tina's case on Friday.

"I haven't – not yet, because I'm still trying to like let it sink in," she said. "I just can't believe that this is all happening."

Police haven't disclosed to Favel how Tina was killed. Favel said she wants more information to give her closure and allow her to grieve Tina's death.

"I've been praying every day since this happened," she said. "It just breaks my heart."

Hotel workers, cab drivers can help, advocate says

Diane Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, said more needs to be done to fight the trafficking of women and girls in Canada.

"It's becoming more and more online and more and more behind closed doors," she said.

She said there is an opportunity to train people in the service industry – from cab drivers to hotel workers – to help combat human trafficking.

"We could target our energies in training them to know what to watch for and then know how to report," she said.

Redsky said addressing the demand for young women among male johns is a major key to stopping trafficking from continuing.

Still, Redsky said Manitoba is leading the way on combatting human trafficking, and she was very happy the Winnipeg police took the step of issuing charges of trafficking of a person under age of 18, rather than applying a prostitution-related charge.