Tina Fontaine's killing 'galvanized a nation,' minister says after arrest in case

Politicians from across Canada are responding to news of an arrest in a case that "galvanized a nation" and put a renewed emphasis on the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Raymond Cormier, 53, charged with murder in Tina Fontaine death

Raymond Cormier, 53, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine, 15, whose body was found in Winnipeg's Red River in August 2014.

Politicians from across Canada are responding to news of an arrest in a case that "galvanized a nation" and put a renewed emphasis on the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIW).

Raymond Joseph Cormier, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg last year.

"Nothing can bring this child back to her family, but I hope that the news brings them some peace and justice for Tina," Manitoba Child and Family Services Kerri Irvin-Ross said Tuesday.

Fontaine's body was found in a bag in the river on Aug. 17, 2014, eight days after she was reported missing.

Irvin-Ross said that while she is happy an arrest has been made in Fontaine's death, she remains conflicted emotionally.
Tina Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014. Her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17. (Family photo)

"It's a sense of relief that the perpetrator has been found," Irvin-Ross said. "But it reminds us of the tragic loss of life of a child in our province and the sadness, not only for their family but also for all Manitobans and across Canada for what's happened." 

MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said she feels a sense of relief for Fontaine's loved ones. North Wilson said she also wasn't anticipating a suspect would be arrested in the case at this time.

"I'm glad that they solved this one. I'm actually kind of surprised that they did, and I shouldn't be but I am," she said. "[Others] have been fighting for answers for a long time and even more so. This problem has happened for generations."

Praise for police

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman praised the Winnipeg Police Service for its work investigating the case and echoed North Wilson on how the news is affecting Fontaine's relatives.

She could've been saved if police had intervened.- Sheila North Wilson

"This has been an incredibly difficult and emotional time for Tina's family, and for the entire communities of Sagkeeng First Nation and Winnipeg," Bowman said in a statement.

"I hope that this arrest can bring them some long awaited peace.... Winnipeg Police have acknowledged the important role the public has played in their investigation, and I would also like to thank those who came forward with information enabling our police service to make this arrest."

North Wilson said some officers contribute to the problems facing indigenous women by not taking the concerns of family members seriously. 

Raymond Cormier, the man accused of killing 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg has at least 92 past criminal convictions across Canada and was described in court earlier this year as posing a "danger to the public." 2:18

"I'm not saying that the whole police force is at fault, but they contribute to the problem.... They don't always take it seriously, they dismiss families, they're sarcastic, they don't believe them and in Tina's case specifically, the police actually saw her and let her go," she said. 

"They clearly saw that she was vulnerable, and that she needed help and instead of calling someone else to come and help her, if they couldn't do it, they just let her go. She could've been saved if police had intervened."

She hopes a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women sheds light on how police across the country can do more to help solve other MMIW cases.

'Galvanized a nation'

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she learned of the arrest as she met with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to discuss plans for the inquiry, which launched this week.

"Tina Fontaine's death galvanized a nation," Bennett told reporters in Ottawa.

Fontaine's death struck a chord that resonated in a new way for Canadians, Bennett said. The story surrounding Fontaine's death "spoke to the kind of prevention that could be in place," Bennett said.

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs says Fontaine's death is a reminder of need for a national public inquiry 1:03

"I think Canadians expected the government to act and put in place measures to prevent this in the future," Bennett said.

"We hope, and the families also hope, that this news will bring some comfort to Tina's family and loved ones. But it is also a reminder of the serious and tragic events that continue to occur to indigenous women and girls across the country, and it only underscores the necessity of moving ahead with the national public inquiry."

Changes to CFS

Manitoba Child and Family Services Kerri Irvin-Ross said Tuesday she felt relieved to hear a suspect has been arrested in the killing of Tina Fontaine. 1:33

Fontaine was under the care of CFS and had been placed in a hotel. She had ran away shortly before her death.

Irvin-Ross said CFS has undergone significant transformations since Fontaine's death to improve the quality of services offered for kids in care. Services for youth with complex needs, mental health and addiction issues have been upgraded and the province's former practice of keeping some kids in hotels has ended, Irvin-Ross added.

"We strongly believe that [through] working with indigenous leaders, communities and the agencies and authorities, we're going to be able to provide the support that keeps children in their home communities surrounded by their family and love," she said.

"We're not waiting for recommendations to make the changes that are necessary. We have been doing that since the moment that we found out about the death of Tina."

Irvin-Ross said now that the criminal investigation is over, others can get underway.

"There was a preliminary internal investigation that happened at the agency level," she said. "The children's [advocate] will now begin their in-depth investigation and we will look forward to those recommendations."

Cormier remains in custody in Vancouver while arrangements are made to send him back to Winnipeg.