The woman who helped raise 15-year-old Tina Fontaine says she is disappointed after learning Crown prosecutors will not appeal the case of the man acquitted in her death.
“I don’t know how to really feel about it, but I just know it was just like getting slapped,” said Thelma Favel, a great aunt who raised Fontaine for several years. “All I thought about was Tina. I guess she just didn’t matter.”
Last month, a jury found Raymond Cormier, 56, not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the death of the Indigenous teen, whose 72-pound body was found wrapped in a duvet cover weighed down with rocks in the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014.
Prosecutors said Tuesday they will not appeal.
“When a jury finds the accused person not guilty, the Crown can only appeal errors on questions of law,” a Manitoba Justice spokesperson said in a statement.
“After a critical review of the law by the Manitoba Prosecution Service’s appeal unit and the Crown attorneys who prosecuted the case, it has been determined there are no grounds to base a successful appeal.”
Fontaine’s death added pressure to calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The cause of her death remains a mystery.
Calls for justice
Critics pointed to the verdict as an example of how Canada’s justice system fails Indigenous peoples, and there were several marches across the country after Cormier was set free.
Observers in and outside the Indigenous community continue to call for justice reforms based on the outcomes of the Cormier trial and Gerald Stanley case.
Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder weeks prior in the shooting death of Red Pheasant Cree Nation member Colton Boushie, 22.
Crown prosecutors announced last Wednesday they would not pursue an appeal, citing similar reasons.
During Cormier’s trial, a jury of seven women and four men heard evidence from Crown prosecutors Jim Ross and Bretta Passler over a period of nearly three weeks. They reached a not-guilty verdict on Feb. 22.
Loud gasps filled the room as the nearly 100 reporters, police, politicians, Indigenous leaders, members of Fontaine’s family and supporters in the court house listened to the verdict.
The case was largely based on circumstantial details. No DNA evidence was found linking Cormier to Fontaine’s death.
“This is not a case that can be proven or disproven by forensic evidence,” Ross told the jury during his opening statement on Jan. 29.
Favel, who raised Fontaine for years on Sagkeeng First Nation, broke down in tears as people filed out of the court the day the verdict was handed down.
On Tuesday, she said she wasn’t sure how to feel when Crown prosecutors told her they won’t pursue an appeal.
“It hurt, it hurt really bad,” she said. “Like, Tina doesn’t even matter to anybody, to the justice system.”