February 23, 2018 2:14 pm
Updated: February 23, 2018 5:00 pm

How the tragic death of Tina Fontaine helped spark the MMIWG inquiry

ABOVE: It was an emotional day for family and friends of Tina Fontaine as Raymond Cormier, the man accused of her murder, was found not guilty.

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Hundreds of people marched in Winnipeg on Friday in honour of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old-girl whose body was found in the Red River, wrapped in plastic and a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks.

READ MORE: Walk to remember Tina Fontaine held Friday in Winnipeg

The rally comes after a jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty of second-degree murder on Thursday in the August 2014 death of Fontaine. The verdict sparked anger and sadness among her family and the Indigenous community, calling for a change in the system that they say failed her.

WATCH: Walk to remember Tina Fontaine draws hundreds of marchers in Winnipeg


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Before the trial was even held, Fontaine’s death triggered national outrage about the violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Canada and renewed calls by activists for the government to conduct a national inquiry.

READ MORE: Death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine drives Manitoba volunteer searchers

The tragedy was also a catalyst for several Indigenous grassroots movements, such as the Drag the Red movement and the Bear Clan Patrol.

“When we first started out, it was in the wake of Tina Fontaine’s murder,” James Favel, an organizer with the Bear Clan Patrol, said. “Her untimely demise – the disrespect that was shown to her personhood – was the last straw for myself, my family and my community at large.”

WATCH: Remembering Tina Fontaine

Growing up in Sagkeeng First Nation, Man. 

When Fontaine was four years old, she moved in with her relatives on the Sagkeeng First Nation, Man., as her mother was unable to care for her or Fontaine’s younger sister.

For more than a decade, she was raised by her great-aunt and uncle, Thelma and Joseph Favel.

WINNIPEG, MB – SEPTEMBER 9: Joe and Thelma Favel and a framed collage tribute to their niece, Tina Fontaine, who was murdered and her body dumped in the Red River. (Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images

However, tragedy struck the family in 2011, when Fontaine’s father Eugene was beaten to death. Thelma said the violent death “deeply affected the girl.”

In June 2014, Thelma agreed to let the 15-year-old go to Winnipeg to reconnect with her biological mother. But when she didn’t hear from Fontaine, Thelma called Child and Family Services (CFS), who took the teen into their care.

WATCH: Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt talks about how hard it is living with the loss

“The girl that walked out of here, kissing me goodbye, said I will see you in a week, mam. I never heard from her again,” Thelma said.

While in CFS care, Fontaine was housed in a Best Western Hotel in Winnipeg. But she left the hotel and was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014.

READ MORE: Tina Fontaine reported missing multiple times in weeks leading up to her death

After this, she was spotted by the police, and came in contact with paramedics, security officers and staff at the Children’s Hospital. But despite being known as missing person, she was able to fall through the cracks.

On Aug. 17, Tina’s body was pulled from the Red River near the Alexander Docks.

A catalyst for MMIWG

After Fontaine’s death, the Canadian Human Rights Commission requested a full inquiry into the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

More than 1,000 people took to the streets to call for action and dozens camped in the shadow of the Manitoba legislature for weeks as they repeatedly called for a national public inquiry.

This was eventually answered by the federal government in 2016, which launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

READ MORE: Ottawa launches long-awaited inquiry into missing, murdered indigenous women

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Fontaine’s death galvanized Canadians to demand measures to stop the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“The families of these women and girls — and the whole country — need answers to the systemic and institutional failures that lead to the murder of Tina Fontaine and far too many other Indigenous daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties, and friends,” Bennett said.

“We need to examine all the factors that lead to these violent acts, including policing, child welfare, healthcare, and the social and economic conditions,” she said.

WATCH: Tina Fontaine is one of the over 1,000 names on the MMIWG

Arrest and trial of Raymond Cormier

Cormier, 56, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 9, 2015, by the Winnipeg Police Service Homicide Unit and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Fontaine.

During the trial, witnesses testified they saw Cormier and Fontaine together in the days before she disappeared.

READ MORE: Raymond Cormier talks sex, Tina Fontaine and drugs in wiretaps, Defence prepares

There is no DNA or forensic evidence linking Cormier and Fontaine and pathologists were unable to give a definitive cause of death.

The largely circumstantial case relied heavily on a series of audio recordings made by police over a six-month undercover operation dubbed “Project Styx.”

The project, which ran from June to December 2015, involved undercover police officers and “bugs” that were placed inside Cormier’s Winnipeg apartment suite.

WATCH: Raymond Cormier talks sex, Tina Fontaine and drugs in wiretaps

In a number of those recordings, Cormier spoke about having sex with Fontaine, who was a minor, and talked about “finishing the job.”

However, Cormier has maintained his innocence since he was arrested.

His acquittal on Thursday was met with outrage among Indigenous leaders.

WATCH: ‘We’ve all failed her,’ Raymond Cormier found not guilty in death of Tina Fontaine

“The CFS (Children and Family Services) system has definitely failed Tina Fontaine, the Winnipeg Police Services failed Tina Fontaine and Canadian society failed Tina Fontaine,” said Kevin Hart, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Manitoba.

“Everybody right now across this country should be ashamed of themselves for the injustice that just occurred here.”

— With files from Global News’ Brittany Greenslade and the Canadian Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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