Skip to main content

The second floor of the Best Western Hotel used by Child and Family Services to house children in their care in Winnipeg.

Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

Some of the swelling has gone down. Her nose is visible now, her eyes a little more so. The lids do not flutter, though, and her breathing is laboured.

The native teen is fighting for her life after an April 1 assault in downtown Winnipeg so violent that her family called in a minister to baptize her in the pediatric intensive-care unit.

The 15-year-old, whom The Globe and Mail is not identifying because she is the victim of a sexual assault and a minor in provincial care, is the unwitting catalyst for promises of swift change to Manitoba's emergency child-welfare system.

Story continues below advertisement

After it was revealed that the girl had been placed at a downtown hotel at the time of the attack, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross publicly pledged to move all provincial wards out of hotels by June 1. The accused, a 15-year-old male who has not been publicly named because he is a minor, is also in foster care and had been placed at the same hotel.

Relatives say the girl is in a coma, unrecognizable even to those who know her well and are at her bedside – her mother, grandmother, older brother and great-aunt. The great-aunt, who said she is close with the wavy-haired teen, said she recently took a blanket to the church on her reserve to have it blessed and plans to lay it over her young niece.

"Who was looking after her?" asked the great-aunt, who said the girl had been placed at the Best Western Charter House a couple of months ago, after she started running away from her grandmother's North End home. "It's the worst thing that [Child and Family Services] could ever do, mixing up the girls and boys in a hotel."

The April 1 attack is the second high-profile crime in eight months involving a native teen placed at the Winnipeg hotel. In August, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from the city's Red River after going missing from the Best Western Charter House. Her death reignited calls for a national inquiry into Canada's murdered and missing indigenous women and put the province's child-welfare system under a microscope.

The Globe has been investigating the emergency-placement program since October and found evidence of prolonged hotel stays, questionable supervision and possible security concerns. The number of children and youth in hotels fluctuates daily, but at any given time there could be dozens of foster charges – mostly aboriginal – living in rented rooms.

The Winnipeg Police Service confirmed Monday the girl remains in critical condition but would not comment on the continuing investigation.

The great-aunt said the teen is aboriginal with familial roots on a reserve north of Winnipeg. She had a difficult upbringing in the city, but found solace in writing and music, her great-aunt said. She wrote sombre poetry and taped her work to the steel-grey walls of her small bedroom. Through a school program a couple of years ago, she took interest in the violin and would practise, eyes closed, on the back porch.

Story continues below advertisement

Her great-aunt said she would spoil the teen, letting her keep the change when she sent her out to get the morning newspaper, or tipping her for carrying her suitcase to the car after a visit. But the girl would dote on her great-aunt, too.

"I would be resting on the couch and I'd hear a voice say, 'Aunty, do you need another blanket? Another pillow?' I knew it was [her]," she recalled.

Last summer, though, the girl started running away. On one occasion, in the early morning hours of a frigid January night, she came home after walking alone in the dark from a friend's house. "I tried to talk to her, and said, 'What if someone grabs you?'" her great-aunt said. On another occasion, after the girl ran away for several days, her great-aunt travelled from her reserve into the city to help scour the streets. She did not find the girl; CFS did, she said, and placed her at the hotel.

The great-aunt said she is not convinced the government will fulfill its promise to remove foster charges from hotels within 60 days. In the meantime, she will pray for her niece's recovery. "I love [her]," she said. "She's a beautiful girl."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter