More than a year after 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's dead body was found wrapped in plastic and pulled from Winnipeg's Red River — and reignited pleas for an inquiry in Canada into missing and murdered indigenous women — police have made an arrest.
At a news conference on Friday, deputy chief Danny Smyth told reporters that Raymond Cormier, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder. He added that Cormier spent time with the Aboriginal teen at a home in Winnipeg before her death, but would not provide further details on the nature of their relationship.
Before her body was tossed into the river, Fontaine had been sexually assaulted.
"It is believed that Tina and Cormier had several encounters, and that he murdered her on their last encounter," Smyth explained. "Tina was a child and an exploited child and, you know, I think to be fair to the investigation and the upcoming court proceedings, we're not going to make any comments about what form of exploitation went on there."
Cormier has been convicted of many crimes throughout his adult life, ranging from minor offenses to violent assaults. Earlier this year, he was found guilty of drug possession. He has also been convicted of assault with a weapon and breach of a court order.
Police say they began investigating Cormier's involvement in Fontaine's case following tips from the public. "People came to us," lead investigator Detective John O'Donovan said. "They never stopped coming to us with information."
Fontaine's death reignited anger and despair at the thousands of missing and murdered women in Canada, and prompted fresh calls for a federal inquiry into the matter. Just a few months later, another indigenous teen, Rinelle Harper, was left for dead in Winnipeg's Assiniboine River after she has been brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. She survived and has become an advocate for indigenous rights and a federal inquiry.
This week, Justin Trudeau moved ahead with his promise to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, with the federal minister for indigenous affairs vowing to take "as long as it takes to get it right."
Fontaine, from the Sagkeeng First Nation community, had been sent into the care of Manitoba's child custody system, from which she was reported missing eight days before her death. That provincial program has been under intense scrutiny for placing children in foster care in hotels without proper supervision. Fontaine was known for trying to run away and had been placed at a Best Western hotel.
Joseph Favel, Fontaine's uncle, told reporters that the arrest was welcome news. "To me, it's some closure, but he's got to be punished for what he did," he said.
The murder rate for Aboriginal women in Canada is disproportionately high. According to the most recent numbers from Canada's federal police force, there have been nearly 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne