WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government committed late Monday to releasing a report into how child welfare workers dealt with Tina Fontaine before the teenager disappeared, died and was dumped in the Red River.
A law that forbids the provincial children’s advocate from publicly releasing special investigation reviews into child deaths will be changed very soon, Families Minister Scott Fielding’s office said.
“The minister commits to releasing it and says proclamation (of a new law) is imminent,” Fielding’s press secretary, Andrea Slobodian, wrote in an email.
Tina Fontaine ran away from a Winnipeg hotel where she was being housed in August 2014. She was 15 years old.
The Indigenous girl’s body was found nine days later in the water, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks. The man accused of killing her, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty last week.
Daphne Penrose, the province’s children’s advocate, said her office has reviewed files and looked at what services were provided to Tina.
“The investigation is almost complete. We do have a little bit more work to do on it,” Penrose said Monday.
But under current Manitoba law, Penrose cannot release her findings publicly. A bill passed in the legislature last year would allow her to do so, but the provincial government has yet to enact it.
Earlier Monday, the Progressive Conservative government would not commit to a time frame for enacting the law.
Cormier’s second-degree murder trial heard details of the final weeks of Tina’s life, but did not delve into the way social workers handled her case.
Tina was raised in a stable home with her great-aunt, Thelma Favel, on the Sagkeeng First Nation, 120 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. She left to visit her mother in Winnipeg at the end of June 2014 and became an exploited youth.
Favel called Child and Family Services with concerns about Tina, and Tina ran away repeatedly from a youth shelter and hotels where she was placed.
She was last seen leaving a downtown hotel, where she told the private contract worker employed by child welfare that she was going to a shopping centre to meet friends.
In a brief written statement, Manitoba’s family services department would only say a review of the case by the regional Southern Child and Family Services Authority “found that standards and protocols were met.”
The children’s advocate’s office, an independent body of the legislature, is expected to delve into more detail in its report.
Some Indigenous leaders and opposition politicians are demanding a full public inquiry into the case — a broad, systemic hearing open to the public and media with witnesses testifying under oath.
“I think we need to look at … why this little girl was failed on so many levels and how do we prevent this from happening in the future,” said Opposition NDP families critic Bernadette Smith.
“I think we need a public inquiry … because it would highlight the services that were meant to keep (Tina) safe, where they failed, and how things could be different going from here on,” said Sheila North, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents First Nations in the northern part of the province.
The idea of releasing children’s advocate reports was recommended by the last public inquiry into the province’s child welfare system — a 2013 report on Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend after social workers closed her file.
The inquiry report by retired Justice Ted Hughes urged Manitoba to follow British Columbia in allowing the release of special reports into children’s deaths by the advocate.