Raymond Joseph Cormier, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg last year.
Fontaine’s body was found in a bag in the river near the Alexander Docks on Aug. 17, 2014, eight days after she was reported missing.
Cormier, who is originally from New Brunswick but lived in Winnipeg for several years, was arrested Wednesday in the Vancouver area, police said Friday afternoon.
He remains in custody in Vancouver while arrangements are made to send him back to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg police deputy chief Danny Smyth said Cormier and Fontaine knew each other, as they both frequented a home in the east side of the city.
“It is believed that Tina and Cormier had several encounters, and that he murdered her on their last encounter,” Smyth told reporters.
Police would not elaborate on the relationship between the two, including whether it was a sexual relationship.
“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,” said Sgt. John O’Donovan, the lead investigator in the case.
“There was definitely some exploitation going on, and not just by [the] accused here but several other people.”
Until now, no arrests had been announced in Fontaine’s death. Police say they are not looking for any other suspects.
Cormier has past convictions
Cormier was convicted of drug possession in February. He was convicted of assault with a weapon and failing to comply with a court order the following month, related to an incident from August 2014 — the month Fontaine died.
“Cormier has been involved in criminal activity throughout his adult life,” Smyth said.
“He has numerous convictions from across Canada. These convictions have ranged from simple breaches to serious violent offences. He has been in and out of correctional institutions throughout his life.”
Cormier has convictions for about a dozen offences in Alberta dating back to 2004, including theft and fraud under $5,000, possession of a prohibited weapon and a controlled substance, resisting a peace officer, not complying with court orders and mischief causing damage.
The second-degree murder charge was laid based on evidence gathered through “forensic examinations, witness interviews and covert operations,” Smyth said.
Tips from the public helped investigators, police added.
“People came to us. They never stopped coming to us with information,” O’Donovan said.
“Right up until a couple of weeks ago, people were coming forward with information.”
‘He’s got to be punished’
Joseph Favel, Fontaine’s great-uncle, said before the news conference that he and his wife, Thelma, had learned on Thursday night that there was news related to Tina’s case.
“To me, it’s some closure, but he’s got to be punished for what he did,” he said.
The couple cared for Fontaine, who was from Sagkeeng First Nation northeast of Winnipeg, for much of her life.
At the time of her disappearance, she was in Winnipeg, in the care of Manitoba’s child-welfare system. Smyth said Fontaine had run away on Aug. 8, 2014, from a Winnipeg hotel where she was being housed in care.
Two Winnipeg police officers saw and spoke with the girl that day, after they stopped a vehicle that she was in, but they let her go.
Both officers were later disciplined, but they do not face criminal charges.
On Friday, police said one of the officers has since returned to active duty while the other is no longer an officer but is still employed by the police department.
Fontaine’s death ‘galvanized a nation,’ says minister
Tina Fontaine’s death sparked public outcry and renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls — an inquiry the new Liberal government is launching.
– ANALYSIS | MMIW inquiry: ‘This is not an indigenous problem, this is a Canadian problem’
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she learned of the arrest as she met with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to discuss plans for the inquiry.
“Tina Fontaine’s death galvanized a nation,” Bennett told reporters in Ottawa.
“We hope, and the families also hope, that this news will bring some comfort to Tina’s family and loved ones. But it is also a reminder of the serious and tragic events that continue to occur to indigenous women and girls across the country, and it only underscores the necessity of moving ahead with the national public inquiry.”
Local advocates also reacted to the news, expressing relief that an arrest has finally been made.
Nahanni Fontaine, the Manitoba government’s special adviser on aboriginal women’s issues, learned of the arrest while in Ottawa on Friday for meetings related to the government’s plans for the inquiry.
“Everyone is in shock. I think that’s one illustration of how much people and families across the country want justice for Tina Fontaine,” she said.
“Everyone deserves justice and this is, in some respects, a good day for Tina’s grandmother. We’re glad somebody is going to be held accountable.”
Manitoba’s children’s advocate, Darlene MacDonald, said her office is waiting for the criminal proceedings to conclude before it can finish its own investigation into Fontaine’s disappearance and death.
“It is not merely a tragic coincidence that Tina was an indigenous girl, involved in the child welfare system, who police have described to have been vulnerable, exploited, and ultimately murdered,” MacDonald said in a statement.
“I hope that we can honour Tina, and her family, by learning from what they have experienced, and committing ourselves to the work of ending the violence being committed against so many indigenous women and girls.”
News of the arrest was welcomed by Willie Starr, the brother of Jennifer Catcheway, another indigenous girl who went missing in June 2008 and has never been found.
“It’s just amazing and I’m overjoyed for them. It’s emotional,” Starr said.
“Ever since we heard about Tina, when she was found, it affected the whole community. Everybody went to the [Alexander] Docks and we all marched for her and the missing and murdered indigenous women. So when I heard the news today, I just jumped for joy in my house.”