More than 1,000 people gathered outside City Hall on March 3 to voice their outrage about the fate of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who died in 2014. The rally came a week after a jury found her alleged murderer, Raymond Cormier, not guilty of the crime. The event was organized through Facebook by 16-year-old Madyson Arscott. “The news of Tina Fontaine’s death took the breath out of me. It made me lose the balance in my step,” said Arscott. “There was nothing she could have done to deserve it. However, the system of colonial court that we have here in Turtle Island makes Indigeneity a crime.”
Fontaine went missing from the care of Manitoba’s Child and Family Services in the summer of 2014. Her body was later found in Red River in Winnipeg, wrapped in a duvet and weighed down by rocks. In a taped confession to police, Cormier admitted to sexual relations with Fontaine and said, “She got killed because we found out, I found out she was 15 years old.”
Cormier’s defence team argued that the evidence tying him to the crime was circumstantial and that the prosecution provided no forensic evidence linking him to the crime. The jury acquitted Cormier of the second-degree murder charge.
Many attendees could be seen holding signs that read, “Justice for Tina Fontaine,” “In Unity We Stand,” and “Missing and Murdered are Canada’s shame.” The rally’s numbers swelled after people from the International Women’s Day March joined in.
The speakers at the rally, many of them Indigenous women, highlighted the systemic injustices Indigenous people face in Canada. “She was a child, still had her life ahead of her, taken away too soon by a colonial mindset, a racist mindset, a dangerous mindset that Canada continues to protect and encourage by the injustice that the system continues to enforce on Indigenous people,” said Eve Saint.
Saint also criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to take action in the cases of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. “You do not have good standing with Indigenous people of Canada, as you selfishly proclaim to the world at the United Nations. You truly want to be a leader? Listen to us.”
Suzanne Smoke of the American Indian Movement also spoke at the rally, denouncing the justice system for its treatment of the Indigenous community. “How dare you take our children,” said Smoke. “Don’t dare walk into any of our communities and into any of my sisters’ homes and think that you know better than us, the original people on our sovereign land, how to raise our children on this land.”
Another speaker, John Fox, shared his story of suing the Attorney General of Canada. His daughter, Cheyenne Fox, fell from a balcony on the 24th floor of a Toronto building in 2013; police called it a suicide, but her family maintains it was murder. “It’s going on for years now because of my daughter… and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be anything in sight for a long time,” said Fox. “We’re fighting for justice for Cheyenne Fox, who was killed here.”
Fox also called out police officers in the back of the crowd, saying, “The culprits are right there in the back with the yellow jackets on, and the blue, whatever they’re dressed in today, those are the culprits around here. Shame!”
Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins—James Bay and the NDP Critic for Indigenous Youth, also spoke. “Our nation failed here,” said Angus. “This was not a crime in the courtroom — this was a crime of a nation, of taking children. Just as they took Amy Owen, and Courtney Scott, and Kanina Turtle, and all the other young children that have been taken into a system that has left them without support, and too many have ended on the streets or have died.”
Like Saint and Smoke, Angus also criticized Trudeau. “If enough children die, and The New York Times calls the government, and the government will tweet and say they’re sorry, it’s a tragedy. A tragedy is when you walk out and get hit by a bus. When children die, and are taken day after day after day, that is not a tragedy, it is genocide.”