A lifelong criminal originally from New Brunswick has been charged in the high-profile killing of Tina Fontaine – news that rippled through the indigenous community just days after the federal government set in motion a national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Sixteen months after Tina's body was pulled from a Winnipeg river and the lead investigator memorably told Canadians they should be "horrified," Winnipeg police arrested 53-year-old Raymond Joseph Cormier in Vancouver on Wednesday. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
The revelation has brought some measure of solace to Tina's great-aunt and great-uncle, who raised the 15-year-old and her younger sister, Sarah, as their own after their father was diagnosed with cancer.
"This is what I wanted," an overwhelmed Thelma Favel told The Globe and Mail through tears in a phone interview before police publicly released the details of the arrest. Her husband, Joseph Favel, said Sergeant John O'Donovan assured them in a call Friday morning that Tina "died instantly" and "didn't suffer."
At a media conference in the Manitoba capital Friday afternoon, Sgt. O'Donovan said Mr. Cormier and Tina knew each other and frequented the same residence in Winnipeg's east end, but he declined to elaborate on their relationship or disclose the motive.
Information from witnesses, along with "covert operations" and forensic examinations, helped crack the case, police said. Sgt. O'Donovan noted that Mr. Cormier was identified "very early" as a suspect, but so were several others. Asked whether Mr. Cormier is considered a suspect in other cases, he said police "will look at" the man's time spent outside jail.
Tina's family has confronted much trauma over the years, and Friday was no exception: Just before the Favels took in news of the arrest, they learned their grandson had been stabbed in Selkirk, Man., and was in surgery.
The August, 2014, death of Tina, a Sagkeeng First Nation teen, reignited calls for a national inquiry into violence against indigenous women and provoked changes to Manitoba's child-welfare system. It also prompted the Winnipeg police board to vote unanimously to make the protection of indigenous women and girls a priority for the city's force.
Tina had been voluntarily placed in Child and Family Services care in July of last year amid struggles stemming from her father's 2011 beating death. She went missing from her emergency foster-care placement at a downtown Winnipeg hotel just days before police divers happened upon her body on Aug. 17, 2014.
The Manitoba government has since announced the end of its use of hotels for emergency placements across the province, where nearly 90 per cent of the 10,000 wards are aboriginal.
Deputy chief Danny Smyth said Friday he "welcomed" recent child-welfare reforms and made clear that police are "outraged" by the violence against indigenous women. "We will never truly know your pain, but we will do our best to discover what happened to your loved ones," he said.
Indigenous leaders and the Manitoba government lauded the police forces involved in solving the case and expressed sympathy to Tina's family. News of the arrest quickly made its way to the nation's capital, where three federal ministers held their first pre-inquiry consultation session with dozens of victims' relatives.
Nahanni Fontaine, of no relation, a special adviser to Manitoba on indigenous women's issues, was in Ottawa for the meeting and said she learned of the news at the lunch break.
"When I saw it, I just gasped," she said, adding that she shared the revelation with victims' family members, who had the same reaction. "They themselves want justice for their loved ones. This is what they all want."
Both she and Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said they get the sense families are now hopeful that this country is finally ready to address violence against indigenous women.
Ms. Lavell-Harvard said she was heartened to hear Sgt. O'Donovan describe the cross-jurisdictional police work that led to the arrest, as well as the language he used in describing the situation Tina found herself in when she arrived in Winnipeg from Powerview-Pine Falls.
Asked at the media conference whether Tina, who was well known to have been selling her body, was involved sexually with Mr. Cormier, Sgt. O'Donovan told reporters: "Tina was a child – an exploited child … You guys can figure it out. There was definitely some exploitation going on, and not just by the accused but several other people."
He said he could not speak to what was going through Tina's mind at the time of her death, but he did offer his thoughts on what was going on in her life at the time. "She was a very confused kid," he said. "She was looking for something she needed to find – looking for her dad, who was definitely gone. That was a huge blow to her."
This will be the family's second Christmas without Tina, who dreamed of some day working with children and had been reading her driver's handbook in anticipation of her 16th birthday.
"It's not going to bring her back," Mr. Favel said of the arrest. "But at least there's some closure."