WINNIPEG - New details emerged Thursday about the last hours in which Tina Fontaine — the 15-year-old girl whose killing has renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women — was seen alive.
Winnipeg police confirmed that two officers came across Fontaine when they pulled over a vehicle on Aug. 8 — the day before she disappeared and more than a week before her body was pulled from the Red River. Fontaine had already been reported missing more than a week earlier, but was not taken into custody at the traffic stop.
"If officers come across a person that's reported missing, I would expect them to take that person into their care," Supt. Danny Smyth said Thursday.
An internal investigation is underway to find out why she was let go, and the two officers have been put on administrative duties. It was not clear whether the officers knew Fontaine's identity at the time, or whether they were aware she had been reported missing.
Smyth spoke at a news conference set up to respond to a CTV report that said Fontaine was a passenger in a vehicle along with a man who was arrested on suspicion of being impaired.
The incident occurred nine days before Fontaine's body was found in a bag in the Red River.
Police said their investigation into the teen's death was still very much active, although no arrests have been made.
Fontaine had spent much of her life with her great-aunt, Thelma Favel, on the Sagkeeng First Nation, 75 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. She had a history of running away and went to Winnipeg about a month before her death to visit her biological mother.
Favel had asked a child welfare agency for help with Fontaine and said Thursday social workers failed her. The girl was supposed to be in a group home or foster home, but had run away and had not been seen for more than a week.
Favel said social workers have told her that on the night of Aug. 8 — which would be a few hours after police came across Fontaine — the girl had passed out in an alley downtown and paramedics took her to a nearby hospital.
"They kept her there for about three or four hours until she sobered up a little bit and then (social workers) picked her up from the hospital."
That appears to have been the last time she was seen alive. Fontaine managed to run away again shortly after leaving the hospital, Favel said.
Child and Family Services has launched an internal investigation into the case as well. The Manitoba government and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority would not confirm or deny Favel's statements, citing privacy laws and the police investigation.
Favel said despite the probes by police, the government and the arm's-length provincial children's advocate, she expects nothing will change.
"It's just another aboriginal who fell through the cracks, is the way I see it."
Favel said Thursday she has received a bill in the mail for Fontaine's ambulance ride to the hospital.
"I just received a $500 ambulance bill a couple of days ago."
The union that represents Winnipeg police officers said people should not jump to conclusions about what happened at the traffic stop.
"I don't know whether there was any misconduct or whether Fontaine was treated appropriately," said Moe Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association.
"I would urge people ... to be very patient and wait for the investigation to be completed."
The head of the Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 31 First Nations including Fontaine's home community of Sagkeeng, said he would await the results of the police probe.
"I'm not going to condemn the police at this point, until there's really solid evidence that they have done something wrong," said Grand Chief Terry Nelson.
Part of the solution is to make aboriginal child welfare agencies truly governed by First Nations, he added.
Manitoba moved a decade ago to create aboriginal child welfare authorities in an effort to make the system more responsive to First Nations, but the system remains governed by provincial law. Some 80 per cent of children in the system are aboriginal.
"The social workers may have brown faces, but the reality is that it's white law."
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