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Politics Father’s killing a turning point in life of slain teen Tina Fontaine

Photo of 15 year old Tina Fontaine at vigil sits on the Alexander Docks along the Red river from which her body, in a bag, was recovered Sunday in Winnipeg Manitoba, August 19, 2014.

LYLE STAFFORD/The Globe and Mail

When Tina Fontaine is laid to rest in Sagkeeng First Nation, her ashes will be scattered over the grassy grave of her father, whose beating death and related court case is being cited by relatives as a turning point in the girl's short life.

Tina's family is peeling back layers of grief, the 2011 killing of Eugene Fontaine taking on new meaning with news that his 15-year-old daughter's body was pulled Sunday from Winnipeg's Red River.

Sagkeeng and neighbouring Powerview-Pine Falls – both places Tina called home over the years – were rocked by her death. Sagkeeng acting chief D.M. Henderson captured the grief, saying plainly: "I'm in shock."

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Tina's case has reignited calls for a national inquiry into Canada's more than 1,100 murdered and missing women, her death emblematic of what the Native Women's Association of Canada calls a "blemish" on the nation.

In an interview at the Powerview-Pine Falls home where Tina grew up, the woman who raised her recounted how the recent court proceedings involving Mr. Fontaine's slaying set off changes in Tina's behaviour – including running away for days at a time, crying and expressing feelings of loneliness.

"We'd be watching TV and she'd come sit beside me and say 'Mama, I'm lonely. I miss Daddy,' " said Tina's aunt, Thelma Favel, who took in the teen and her younger sister nearly 11 years ago, after Mr. Fontaine became frail with cancer.

Ms. Favel and another relative she raised as her own, Bryan Favel, knew she wasn't okay. Ms. Favel said she tried to get Tina into grief counselling – reaching out to Child and Family Services (CFS) and the province's Victim Services – only to have "doors shut" in her face and find that Tina was at least initially unwilling to get professional help.

After Tina ran away twice in the spring and didn't return after what was supposed to be a five-day trip to visit her mother in Winnipeg in early July, Ms. Favel called CFS and asked that Tina be placed in short-term care. Ms. Favel and Bryan Favel are under the impression she then lived on and off with a foster family in the city, though they aren't sure.

"I let her go [to Winnipeg], and that's the worst mistake I've ever made," Ms. Favel said through tears.

The teen's mother, Tina Duck, said police told her early Monday that divers had found her daughter, who was identified, in part, by a tattoo dedicated to her father on her back. Ms. Duck told The Globe the body art depicted his name, birthday and date of death – Halloween of 2011.

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Each day since a Winnipeg police sergeant announced Tina's death with palpable frustration Monday, the force has received a "significant" response from the public, including several "good tips" that are assisting with the investigation.

"The response really does show that members of the public are angry, they're upset, they're emotional with respect to what's taken place," Constable Jason Michalyshen said, adding, "and we all are."

Some 16 detectives spent much of Wednesday canvassing part of Winnipeg's downtown core that Tina was known to frequent, namely the area around Ellice Avenue, Furby Street and Langside Street.

She was last seen downtown on Aug. 8 and was reported missing a day later. Winnipeg Police issued a news release asking for the public's help in locating her four days later, on Aug. 13.

Constable Michalyshen declined to provide specifics on the delay in publicizing the teen's disappearance, but said officers must first investigate reports of missing persons before they ask for the public's assistance. Police also assess risk factors and determine "immediate concern for well-being," he said.

Police have said that Tina was "exploited" and "vulnerable," but Constable Michalyshen would not say whether she had been involved in the sex trade. He said only that police believe the teen was "a vulnerable young lady and someone that would be easily exploited by certain individuals."

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A service for Tina is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Sagkeeng's St. Alexander Roman Catholic Parish, where her father's grave is topped with a wooden cross. Two men in May pleaded guilty to manslaughter in his beating death.

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