WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A Canadian jury has acquitted a man in the killing of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose death in 2014 drew attention to a long-time trend of violence against indigenous women in Canada, CBC reported.
Fontaine’s body was found wrapped in a blanket, weighted down by rocks in a Winnipeg, Manitoba, river in August 2014. Her death highlighted problems with Manitoba’s child welfare system, as the Aboriginal girl from Sagkeeng First Nation had been staying in government care in a hotel.
Raymond Joseph Cormier, 56, who was unemployed when he was arrested in 2015, was not found guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder by a jury of seven women and four men, CBC said.
The verdict came about two weeks after an all-white jury acquitted a Saskatchewan farmer in the shooting death of an Aboriginal man on his property. That case has sparked calls for reforms of Canada’s justice system.
Aboriginals, who make up 5 percent of Canada’s population, have higher levels of poverty and a lower life expectancy than other Canadians, and are more often victims of violent crime, according to government data.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1,017 Aboriginal women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012. Another 164 went missing under suspicious circumstances between 1951 and 2012.
The cause of Fontaine’s death was not determined, but prosecutor Jim Ross argued that someone smothered or drowned her. Jurors heard audio recordings of Cormier from a covert police operation that Ross said included admissions of guilt.
Cormier has denied killing Fontaine, and his lawyer, Tony Kavanagh, argued that her death could have been caused by “self-smothering” or an overdose of alcohol and the drug gabapentin.
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; editing by Jim Finkle and Tom Brown