4 years after Tina Fontaine’s murder, Manitobans continue to push for change

Tina Fontaine, centre, attends a vigil for her daughter Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall at the Oodena Circle at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tuesday, August 19, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Through her death, Tina Fontaine has become a catalyst for change — in more ways than one.

Days after Fontaine’s body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, more than a thousand people hit the streets to express their outrage.

The teen’s death not only re-ignited calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, but it also put the spotlight back on Manitoba’s Child and Family Services.

At the time, the organization had placed the teen in a downtown hotel before she disappeared. It was a common practice at the time, but one that has since come to an end.

In Manitoba, close to 11,000 children are in the child welfare system. That’s much higher than Saskatchewan, which only has 4,000.

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Even with its larger population, Alberta is only at 7,000 children.

The Province of Manitoba told Global News in February that there is only one worker for every 25 children in care.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs insists Child and Family Services is broken, blaming a lack of funding, concrete plans and clear communication.

“When you use buzzwords like ‘for the safety of children’ and ‘protection of the child’, we don’t know what those things mean,” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said.

“We have a notion that these institutions that we rely on function correctly, but we have examples like Tina Fontaine that allow light to be cast on how dysfunctional they are.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that we figure out how to correct them.”

A report surrounding Fontaine’s death should be released in October.

The province also said it is reviewing their system.

The shock and anger of Fontaine’s death prompted action.

The Bear Clan was rallied around because of the teen’s murder: it started off with just a dozen members but has since transformed into an army of hundreds of volunteers, with chapters in more than a dozen cities across Canada.

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Drag the Red also formed following Fontaine’s murder.

“It’s the kind of thing when you get the news, you know exactly where you were, because it was so impactful,” volunteer Mitch Bourbonniere said.

Drag the Red is up to 70 volunteers. Every summer, volunteers fan out where Fontaine’s body was found and continue to search for other missing loved ones.

“We will never forget Tina. She has become our niece, all of us,” Bourbonniere said. “I just hope the rest of Winnipeg and the rest of Manitoba understands we’re never going to quit.”

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