Advocate’s report has new details on how system turned away Tina Fontaine

by - 4 min read

Advocate’s report has new details on how system turned away Tina Fontaine

by - 4 min read


Tina Fontaine didn’t get a single counselling session before her death, despite ongoing recommendations for mental health support and requests from her family, according to the long-awaited report in the teen’s death and the systems meant to protect her 

The 115-page report from Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth says the teen wasn’t invited to participate in counselling after her father’s homicide in 2011, and the supports she needed to protect her from adults who were exploiting her in the final months of her life never came.

Daphne Penrose, the advocate, released her report in Fontaine’s home community of Sagkeeng First Nation, Man., at 11 a.m. CT. It makes five recommendations to Manitoba agencies.

Prior to the release of the report, Fontaine’s great-aunt Thelma Favel told CBC News the document contains many “heavy” and “heartbreaking” details.

“It’s awful. Things I didn’t even know,” said Thelma Favel after a five-hour briefing last week from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.  

On Aug. 17, 2014, Tina’s body, wrapped in a duvet and weighted down with rocks, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg. No one has ever been convicted of a crime in connection with her disappearance and death.

The report reveals new details about how “the system turned Tina away” and new details about her biological parents and their contacts with the child welfare system, according to Favel.

Favel said she learned new insights into how troubled Fontaine’s parents were, especially her biological mother.

“That family was doomed from the beginning,” she said.

Tina Fontaine’s body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg in the summer of 2014, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighted down with rocks. No one has been convicted of a crime in connection with her death. (Submitted by Rose Fontaine)

5 recommendations

Under the Advocate for Children and Youth Act, the advocate has broad powers to access records many people never see because of privacy legislation. She can order documents from Child and Family Services, the school system, police and the health system if she believes they are relevant to her investigation.

For the Fontaine report, the advocate’s office said she reviewed many files from different sources, including the RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba Victim Services, and conducted individual and group interviews.

The report contains five recommendations to address the gaps it identified in the system during its analysis of Fontaine’s case.

It recommends that:

  • Manitoba’s government analyze Alberta’s Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act and Drug-Endangered Children Act to determine how safe and secure treatment facilities can be introduced in Manitoba; and that a plan be developed to ensure the continuum of youth services includes safe, secure, home-like settings for treatment and programming when children are at imminent risk of harm or death.
  • Manitoba Families, in consultation with other government departments and relevant stakeholders, create a new protocol to ensure that response plans are created for all missing youth, and in particular sexually exploited youth who are at risk of imminent harm.
  • Manitoba Justice evaluate victim support services for children, and develop quality control measures to ensure that services are child-centred and timely.
  • Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living expedite release of a clear implementation plan of child and youth mental health supports as recommended in the 2018 Virgo Report.
  • Manitoba Education and Training review measurement of and response to student absenteeism and use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, with a view to limit exclusionary practices; this builds on a previous recommendation from the child advocate in a report on the 2016 death of an Indigenous teen in care.

The plan needs to ensure resources are “prioritized in rural and remote locations to ensure equitable service levels for children and youth regardless of where they are living,” the report states.

Favel has long contended that one of the main ways the child welfare system failed Tina Fontaine was a lack of counselling for the teen after her father died.

Eugene Fontaine was beaten to death in 2011.

Favel says she repeatedly asked Sagkeeng CFS for help getting counselling for her niece the summer she went to Winnipeg. She said they told her to go to another agency because Tina wasn’t in Sagkeeng. That agency told her it couldn’t help because of a jurisdictional issue.

“I don’t know how many times the door closed. I said, ‘Please just help me,'” Favel said prior to the release of the report.

The legislation that governs the child advocate allows it to monitor and track whether public bodies are complying with its recommendations.

Current system ‘detrimental’: Sheila North

Prior to the release of the report, former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief and Indigenous advocate Sheila North said she hoped the recommendations include making supports more accessible to Indigenous women and girls in crisis.

“I think a lot of the times our young people and our women become vulnerable because they don’t have what they need to survive,” North said Monday.

“I hope this is what this report highlights: the need to support Indigenous women, especially when they’re in need because they’re the most vulnerable right now and they need as much support as we can give them whether it’s financial, mental health or counselling.”

North hopes the advocate’s report will create change in the child welfare system but warns much more work needs to be done.

“I hope that the governments and people that are making decisions will realize that the current system is really harming, it’s detrimental to our children and future generations,” North said. “I hope that this spells it right out and clear that what we’re doing is not working.”

This story originally appeared on CBC