The Manitoba government says it will not call a public inquiry into the death of an Indigenous girl whose body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River.
Justice Minister Heather Stefanson says Tina Fontaine’s death and how her case was handled by child-welfare workers are already being examined by the provincial children’s advocate.
Under a new law passed by the Tory government, the advocate’s reports now can be made public. The review into Tina’s case is expected to wrap up in the coming months.
Tina was an exploited 15-year-old who frequently ran away from a youth shelter and hotels where social workers had placed her.
The man charged with killing her, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty last month of second-degree murder and the Crown has said it will not appeal the verdict.
Stefanson says it’s clear there need to be improvements in government care and the children’s advocate will answer key questions.
“The Manitoba government acknowledges that Manitoba’s child-welfare system has failed Indigenous families for far too long,” Stefanson said in a written statement Wednesday.
“Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth Act, which will be proclaimed (Thursday), allows the children’s advocate to publicly release the results of this important investigation and the province awaits this report.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government should hold an inquiry because, unlike an investigation by the children’s advocate, it would involve public hearings with sworn testimony.
“Having a full public inquiry would bring that truth-telling into the public sphere where it belongs and would give great confidence to the people of Manitoba (about getting) answers on what happened to Tina and why,” Kinew said.
Tina’s death shocked the country and led to renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She was last seen leaving a downtown hotel, where 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 several days later, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks in the river.
The last public inquiry into Manitoba child welfare wrapped up 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.
The inquiry, which cost $14-million, found social workers frequently lost track of who was caring for Phoenix and closed her file, months before her death, without laying eyes on her. They also failed to realize that her mother’s boyfriend was a man with a long history of domestic violence — information that could have been retrieved from the Child and Family Services central database.