The failure of the many systems meant to protect Tina Fontaine throughout her life began years before she was even born.
Disturbing new details about the exploitation of Tina’s mother while in the care of Child and Family Services agencies were revealed in an extensive report released by Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth on Tuesday.
Upon reading these details, Tina’s great-aunt Thelma Favel, the woman who raised the girl for much of her life, remarked that the family “was doomed from the beginning.”
Tina’s body, wrapped in a duvet weighted down by rocks, was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River on Aug. 17, 2014. Police arrested Raymond Cormier, a drifter and drug user, and charged him with murdering Tina, but a jury acquitted him and no one has ever been convicted in her death.
Many details about the ways in which public services failed Tina in the weeks leading up to her disappearance and death were revealed at Cormier’s trial, but Tuesday’s report shows that the failure of those systems extends even further, back to the life of Tina’s own mother.
Mother exploited as a child
In her introduction to the report, children’s advocate Daphne Penrose acknowledged that by including details about the lives of people other than Tina “expose[ed] them to the possibility of undeserved or ignorant criticism for the casual reader who is intent on casting blame.” Not including them, however, would give an incomplete picture of the forces that shaped Tina’s life, she wrote.
Tina’s mother, Valentina Duck, first came to the attention of CFS at the age of six. Duck’s mother’s relationships were “marked by violence and addiction, which at times left Tina’s mother without adequate care and protection.” She was made a permanent ward of CFS at age 10 in 1992.
Duck was moved around frequently and began running away, abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age. Her case workers also knew she was being sexually exploited, but did little to intervene, the report says.
At the age of 12, she met the man who would become the father of Tina and two of her seven siblings. Eugene Fontaine was 23 when he met Duck and he soon began sexually exploiting her.
Eugene Fontaine’s father was a survivor of residential schools whose experiences led him to a life of “severe alcoholism and violence.” Fontaine left his home on Sakgeeng First Nation at age 12 and moved to Winnipeg, where he fended for himself on the streets.
‘Streets are her only friend’
Duck gave birth to her first child at age 14 in 1996 and CFS apprehended the child immediately. Around this time, Tina Fontaine’s paternal grandmother confirmed to CFS that Eugene was profiting off of sexually exploiting Duck. Despite her case workers’ concerns about her exploitative and often violent relationship, Duck told them he was the only one who would take care of her and that “the streets are her only friend.”
Tina Fontaine, Duck’s second child, was born Jan. 1, 1999, when Duck was 17 and her father was 28. The couple had been making positive steps, attending parenting classes and addictions programs, and hospital staff had no concerns at the time. In June of that year, Duck aged out care upon turning 18.
Problems began to resurface by the time their third child, Tina’s sister, was born in June 2000. Tina and her sister were seized by CFS and placed in a hotel when they were one year old and four months old, after their parents left the children in the care of their grandmother and didn’t return for some time.
The children were returned four days later, but no assessment was done to determine if they were safe, or if their parents were capable of caring for them. The next year, Tina and her sister were seized again after their parents were spotted leaving a house party staggeringly intoxicated with their children in tow.
The children were again placed in a hotel for nine days and eventually went into foster care. Around this time, Duck and Fontaine’s relationship ended.
In father’s care
After he completed addictions treatment and parenting classes, Tina and her sister were returned to their father’s care.
Given his extensive history of exploitation and violence towards their mother, Penrose wrote “it is concerning that the agency moved so quickly to place two children who were both under the age of three with Tina’s father and then rapidly close their file without extensive monitoring and supports to ensure the children’s ongoing safety.”
Contact between Duck and her children ceased for several years. Eugene Fontaine continued to struggle with his addiction, eventually placing the children into a customary care arrangement with his aunt, Thelma Favel, to whom the girls would refer as “grandma.”
For many years, Favel provided a stable home for the two girls, who maintained regular contact with their father. In 2005, Favel contacted her CFS agency to ask about getting Tina assessed for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but no assessment was ever done.
Father’s death a turning point
The relative stability of Tina’s life was upended when her father was beaten to death by two men in 2011, when Tina was 12 years old. The report criticizes Victim Services for failing to arrange counselling for Tina, who began skipping school and running away from home, despite repeated pleas from Favel and others to get her help.
“In the nearly three years of involvement since the homicide death of Tina’s father, victim services neither met directly with Tina nor did they arrange a single counselling session for her to help her manage her loss and grief,” the report says.
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