December 6, 2019

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Privacy concerns raised over child advocate report

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Child and Youth Advocate released an investigation into Tina Fontaine’s life and death on Tuesday.</p>


Manitoba Child and Youth Advocate released an investigation into Tina Fontaine’s life and death on Tuesday.

The privacy of Tina Fontaine's surviving relatives should have been respected when the Manitoba advocate for children and youth published a 115-page report that detailed the teen's life and death, First Nations groups say.

"They will always have to live with this burden of their loved one that they lost, and all of the losses before that that they had no control over," said Tara Petti, chief executive officer of the Southern First Nations Network of Care.

"We believe that the advocate can take more care in how she presents the information that is being published."

The Southern First Nations Network of Care and the Southern Chiefs' Organization are joining a chorus of criticism levelled at Daphne Penrose in the wake of her report about what could have helped 15-year-old Tina before and after she made her way to Winnipeg in the summer of 2014. Tina's body was pulled from the Red River in August 2014.

The report called for changes to the school system, mental health services, Manitoba Justice's victim services, and child-welfare protocols. It recommended the province establish "safe and secure" treatment centres for severely addicted youth.

It charted Tina's life from birth to death, and the report also shed light, for the first time, on the childhood and life experiences of Tina's mother. Although she didn't want to participate in the report, the advocate's office delved into the mother's Child and Family Services records dating to when she was six, and illustrated the early trauma and sexual exploitation she experienced.

Tina's mother isn't named in the report, and neither are other relatives whose personal information was published even though they declined interviews with the advocate's office. She couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

As a result of such information being made public, the Southern First Nations Network of Care reached out to affected individuals, Petti said.

"We have taken steps to ensure that there was no harm," she said, although she said she couldn't elaborate due to confidentiality agreements.

The agency expressed its concerns to the advocate's office before the report was publicly released March 12, and Petti said she hopes there will be a more "collaborative approach" when future reports are released.

During a media event at Sagkeeng First Nation last week, Penrose said she hoped the details included in the report would show Manitobans neither Tina nor her mother were to blame for what happened to Tina. The report states the decision to release personal information about family members was made with careful consideration.

"I know that to tell Tina’s story in a vacuum and without mention of those who loved her and surrounded her is to fail in my duty to tell the truth of Tina’s story. Tina was influenced by many people, and she had two moms who loved her. Tina’s first mom loved her and tried to manage her growing family, but was unable in the long-term to provide the care Tina needed in her life," Penrose wrote in the report, also referring to Tina's "grandma," who raised her, as her second mother.

Other groups, including a Winnipeg coalition for sexually exploited youth, have criticized the report's recommendations and what they described as a lack of consultation.

Earlier this week, Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Penrose didn't alert the province to 17 youth who the advocate's office said are in immediate danger. In response, Penrose said she's been sharing information about at-risk youth for months.

In a statement this week, she said her office spoke with families, policy makers, sexual exploitation survivors and Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups in preparation for the Tina report.

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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