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Gatherings across the country call for Justice for Tina Fontaine

Image: Council of Canadians

#JusticeForTinaFontaine gatherings are taking place today in Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax, on February 24 in Victoria, Vancouver, Montreal, Oriliia and Regina, and on February 25 in Guelph, Calgary and London. There is also an ongoing presence of people camped outside the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg.

Late yesterday, a jury in Winnipeg found 56-year-old Raymond Cormier not guilty of the murder of the 15-year-old girl.

The Globe and Mail reports:

"The Winnipeg court heard from Thelma Favel that Tina left Sagkeeng, 115 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, on June 30, 2014, to spend a week with her mother. It was her reward for an exceptional report card from École Powerview, her new, off-reserve school, where she had just finished Grade 9. Ms. Favel had been caring for Tina and her sister Sarah, one year her junior, since they were 3 and 4 in her home in Powerview-Pine Falls, just beyond Sagkeeng's northeast border."

APTN adds:

"The court heard Tina had a happy childhood raised by a great-aunt on the Sagkeeng First Nation, but the girl began to spiral downward when her father was murdered in October 2011. Tina's mother, who had not been part of her life, re-emerged and Tina started going to Winnipeg to visit her. The girl ended up on the street and was being sexually exploited [by Cormier after he took her to a house where he said she could sleep]. Tina's body, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg several days after she disappeared in August 2014."

And the CBC notes:

"Tina interacted with [Manitoba's Child and Family Services system] and Winnipeg police in the weeks before her death. Thelma Favel, a great-aunt who raised Tina for much of her life, asked in July 2014 for the agency to take custody of her after she left Sagkeeng First Nation for Winnipeg to find her birth mother. CFS placed her in an area hotel, but she ran away and later told a social worker she was staying at a group home. She was reported missing on July 30. Two Winnipeg police officers spoke to Tina as part of a traffic stop on Aug. 8. She was in a car being driven by a man [Richard Mohammed] who was allegedly drunk. He was taken into custody, but the officers let Tina go."

The Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Arlen Dumas says, "There's no shield against negligence, there's no shield against incompetence. All the systems that were to protect Tina failed her. It is unacceptable. Everything has failed. How can we talk about reconciliation when the very nets that we're asked to participate in do not fulfil what they're supposed to fulfil?"

The Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Sheila North says, "[The system] ultimately killed Tina. There's no denying that. We want justice for Tina. We want to see what failed in this system and how did it lead to this person? And if it's not [Cormier]… someone's still out there responsible for taking her life, including all of the systems that were involved in her life, including everything from child welfare to the policing to the poverty levels that her and her family were subjected to."

Mi'kmaw citizen Pam Palmater has written about "the pipeline from Canada's foster-care system to murdered, missing and exploited Indigenous women and girls."

Palmater says, "Although Indigenous children make up only seven per cent of the population in Canada, they represent 48 per cent of all children in foster care." In Manitoba, 85 per cent of all children in care are Indigenous.

Palmater adds, "There are three times more Indigenous children in care today than there were during the height of residential schools. And most Indigenous children are taken into care for reasons of neglect and structural factors beyond the parents' control, like conditions of poverty and poor housing, and less likely than non-Indigenous children to be taken into care for reasons of physical or sexual abuse."

Palmater also says, "Indigenous women and girls experience seven times the homicide rate as non-Indigenous women."

And artist Christi Belcourt has tweeted, "Canada's injustice system isn't broken. It's been humming along just fine for 150 years as justice was something clearly never intended for Indigenous people."

Please attend one of the gatherings taking place today and tomorrow.

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