Tina Fontaine's great-aunt said she is "shocked" at the revelation that the teen spent time, shortly before her killing, at a relative's Winnipeg apartment now at the centre of a sex-trafficking case.
Jeanenne Fontaine, Tina's cousin, and two men have reportedly been charged with sex trafficking of a person under the age of 18. Police are said to have arrested the three last week for allegedly forcing a 17-year-old girl to remain at Jeanenne Fontaine's suite and have sex with dozens of men between May 20 and June 1.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported that the unit is listed under the name of her mother, Lana Fontaine, an aunt to Tina who last fall said the native teen stayed at her Furby Street home in the days before her still-unsolved August killing.
"It's just so hard to grasp right now," said Tina's great-aunt, Thelma Favel, adding Jeanenne Fontaine was at the girl's funeral last year. "I just don't know what to think any more."
In an online exchange with The Globe and Mail, Lana Fontaine said her daughter is innocent and that she does not know of any connection between the sex-trafficking probe and Tina's case. "My kid is a good [kid] she did nothing wrong," she wrote. "Just cause [sic] she knows of them guys they won't leave her place … I had ask[ed] them to leave."
Tina, who had been voluntarily placed in Child and Family Services care last summer amid struggles related to her father's 2011 beating death, was killed after going missing from her emergency placement at a downtown Winnipeg hotel. After her body was pulled from the Red River, investigators canvassed part of the downtown core where the teen was known to frequent, including the Furby Street area.
Police, paramedics and a child-welfare worker separately had contact with Tina the last day the girl, who was known to have been working in the sex trade, was seen alive. The lead investigator, Sergeant John O'Donovan, said last summer Tina had "definitely been exploited and taken advantage of."
The Winnipeg Police Service would not comment on the sex-trafficking arrests or whether they are probing any potential connection between the two cases. The Free Press reported that a justice source said there does not, at this time, seem to be a direct evidentiary link.
Jeanenne Fontaine, who is reportedly out on bail after a hearing this week at which she denied the allegations, could not be reached for comment. Two men – Jesse Thomas and Eric Wirffel – have also been charged, and police are seeking the arrest of Clinton Wirffel, according to media reports.
Ms. Favel said she has not been provided with an update since police were in touch months ago about an internal probe into Tina's contact with two police officers on Aug. 8 – the day before she was reported missing for the last time. "It's frustrating," she said. "I want to know something. What's going on?"
Ms. Favel said she prays every night for a resolution to Tina's case, which sparked renewed calls for a national inquiry into Canada's untold murdered and missing indigenous women. It also prompted fresh scrutiny of the child-welfare system and, along with a recent assault on a native foster child, spurred the Manitoba government to promise an end to hotel use for emergency placements.