Tina Fontaine remembered by Nova Scotians calling for justice reforms

People in Nova Scotia are adding their voices to the outcry of grief across the country following the verdict acquitting Raymond Cormier of murdering Tina Fontaine.

Demonstrations being held across the country calling for change

People gather at Halifax's Grand Parade Friday to express solidarity with Tina Fontaine's family. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

People in Nova Scotia are adding their voices to the outcry of grief across the country following the verdict acquitting Raymond Cormier of murdering Tina Fontaine

Tina was 15 years old when her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg. She was wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks. 

Outside the Winnipeg courthouse Thursday, Indigenous leaders told reporters that Canada, Winnipeg police and the child welfare system failed to protect Tina. 

In 2014, Tina was under the care of Manitoba's Child and Family Services, which placed her in a hotel. She was reported missing on July 30. Police officers saw her and spoke to her about a week later, but let her go. Her body was discovered shortly after that. 

Tina Fontaine's body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks. (Tina Fontaine/Facebook)

In an email to the CBC, Lorraine Whitman, the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, wrote that her group had hoped to see a "shift" in how Indigenous women are viewed and treated following the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but she believes nothing has changed.

"This family deserves closure, and it didn't happen. We continue to see this happening with cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women," she wrote. 

"The reality is that the Canadian justice system is two-tiered — it is not meeting the needs of Indigenous Canadians and it continues to discriminate against us. How can we feel safe in a country when we aren't viewed as equal? If the victim had been a non-Native woman and the accuser a Native man, we would have seen a very different outcome."

Cheryl Maloney, a political science professor at Cape Breton University and a longtime Indigenous rights activist, agreed. 

"In our earlier years of advocating, we felt sincerely that if we shared with Canadians the reality of Indigenous women and girls — our baby girls — that good Canadians would want better for them," she said. "What this case has shown me is that people know."

Hundreds of people march in Winnipeg in support of Tina Fontaine's family. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Maloney challenged Canadians to prioritize groups that support youth like Tina, but said she works with many groups that must scrape together funding each year to help their clients. 

"Nothing's changing," she said. "All the groups and organizations that are meant to support Tinas of our world, they run out of money.

"If it was important to Canadians, then the government would respond. That's not there." 

Amanda Rekunyk is one of the organizers of a demonstration at 5 p.m. Friday at the Grand Parade in Halifax meant to express solidarity with Tina's family. 

"We are expressing our love for them, our prayers for them, and our solidarity in seeking justice for Tina, as well as Colten [Boushie], and all Indigenous youth and missing and murdered women that are being ignored by our Canadian justice system and our Indigenous justice minister," she said. 

About two weeks ago, Rekunyk helped organize a vigil following the not-guilty verdict in the death of Colten Boushie, a Saskatchewan man who died following a shooting on the farm of Gerald Stanley. 

The marchers at the Winnipeg demonstration walked from the Winnipeg courthouse to Oodena Circle at the Forks. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

Rekunyk said the pair of verdicts has deeply angered her. 

"The grief is very painful. It's hard to describe," she said.

Rekunyk said she feels Canadian politicians are paying "lip service" to reconciliation and justice for Indigenous people. 

"We need to see Indigenous justice levied by our Indigenous, grassroots grandmothers. We need to see that our systems of justice, our systems of leadership, our traditional systems are honoured. Because that's when we will see true reconciliation," she said. 

"Everything else is lip service. Everything else is just public rhetoric so they can make themselves look good."

People stand with candles during a Feb. 10 vigil in Halifax for Colten Boushie. (Shaina Luck/CBC)