Supporters of Tina Fontaine’s family march in Winnipeg to support her family

Supporters of Tina Fontaine’s family march in Winnipeg to support her family

WINNIPEG — Hundreds marched through the streets of Winnipeg on Friday in support of the family of a 15-year-old Indigenous girl whose body was wrapped in a blanket and dumped in a river.

The three-block-long march began in front of the courthouse and wound its way to the spot at the Red River where Tina Fontaine’s body was found in August 2014.

Supporters carried signs reading No Justice No Peace, Justice for All and Love for Tina.

On Thursday, a jury found Tina’s accused killer, Raymond Cormier, not guilty of second-degree murder.

Thelma Favel, Tina’s great-aunt who raised her, thanked the marchers.

“We did what we could to bring justice for my baby girl,” she said. “Tina, I know, is beside me right now and she’s looking at you and appreciating everything that you’re doing.

“My heart is just overflowing with love and gratitude for each and every one of you.”

Aboriginal leaders speaking at the march reiterated their position that social services and the justice system are failing Indigenous young people.

There were also calls for Cormier to face other charges related to his relationship with Tina, who was from the Sagkeeng First Nation north of Winnipeg.

“He took advantage of a 15-year-old girl,” said Marilyn Courchene, a councillor from Sagkeeng.

“He should have been charged … for at least rape and exploitation.”

The Crown had argued that a possible motive for the killing was that Cormier had found out how old Tina was.

He admitted on undercover police tapes that he had sex with the teen. He was heard telling a woman that he bet Tina was killed because he found out she was only 15.

The defence had argued that the tapes were hard to hear, that the transcriptions could be wrong and that Cormier’s denial to police of any involvement was the real truth.

There was no DNA evidence linking him to Tina and experts could not determine how she died.

Scott Newman, a spokesman for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, said the jury came to a just conclusion.

“There were significant holes in the case that the Crown simply wasn’t able to close. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Cormier was held in custody and put on trial for a case that was as weak as this,” Newman said Friday.

Cormier did not have a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to proceed. The Crown sent him directly to trial.

Newman suggested a hearing could have saved both the prosecution and the defence a lot of trouble.

Tina’s body, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks, was pulled from the river eight days after she was reported missing. Cormier was charged more than a year later.

Tina was being sexually exploited after coming to Winnipeg.

The jury heard how the girl’s relatively stable upbringing spiralled out of control when her father was murdered. Her mother came back into her life and Tina had gone to visit her in the city, where the girl descended into life on the streets.

She and her boyfriend met the much-older Cormier in the summer of 2014. The jury heard Cormier gave the couple a place to stay, gave Tina drugs and had sex with her.

Fontaine was in the care of social services and was staying at a Winnipeg hotel hotel when she disappeared.

Newman said he’s not surprised at the outrage the case has stirred.

“There’s a young girl who’s been killed and disposed of like she didn’t matter to our society,” he said.

“The focus really needs to be on … how do we make sure that this doesn’t happen again? How are we going to protect future Tina Fontaines from finding themselves in a similar position?”

— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press