WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government faced another call Thursday for a public inquiry into the death of an Indigenous girl whose body was found in the Red River.
Chief Derrick Henderson of Sagkeeng First Nation, where Tina Fontaine grew up, said only a public inquiry can examine all the issues that contributed to the 15-year-old’s death.
“I think (an) inquiry would be a step to get the right answers that we need,” he said.
Tina left her home in the summer of 2014 to reconnect with her birth mother in Winnipeg. The girl soon became sexually exploited, and repeatedly ran away from a youth shelter and hotels where social workers had placed her.
She was last seen leaving a hotel Aug. 8. She told a private contract worker employed by child welfare that she was going to a shopping centre to meet friends.
Her body was found just over a week later wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks in the river. The man accused of killing her, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in February.
The Opposition New Democrats and many Indigenous leaders have already called for a public inquiry to examine the actions of Child and Family Services workers, police and others.
In question period Thursday, NDP legislature member Nahanni Fontaine asked Justice Minister Heather Stefanson three times to commit to an inquiry.
Stefanson said she would leave the work to the provincial children’s advocate, who is already reviewing how Child and Family Services handled Tina. That report is expected in a few months.
“We need to allow that process to take place,” Stefanson said.
“We will await the results of that process.”
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said he supports Chief Henderson’s call for a public inquiry.
Dumas said he is disappointed with the province’s decision.
“How is the miscarriage of justice in the death of a young girl not worth an inquiry?,” he said in a release. “Our children need to know that we value their lives.
“It would benefit the Province of Manitoba to show our First Nation citizens they mean it when they speak of reconciliation.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said earlier this week that a public inquiry would be more thorough than the children’s advocate review, because it would involve sworn testimony at public hearings.
The last public inquiry into Manitoba child welfare concluded in 2013 and found continued failures by social workers leading up to the murder of Phoenix Sinclair. The five-year-old girl was beaten to death by her mother and mother’s boyfriend in 2005 after social workers decided she was safe and closed her file.