Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis won't agree with me.

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This article was published 29/9/2014 (2575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis won't agree with me.

But a pattern appears to have developed on his watch that suggests a lack of transparency on a number of high-profile and tragic cases over the last year.

Tina Fontaine

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Tina Fontaine

There was the Lisa Gibson case in the summer of 2013, in which responding police failed to locate the bodies of her drowned children, and the WPS failed to report that failure until media pressure forced them to acknowledge what happened.

More recently, there was the case of Andrew Baryluk, the man who died by suicide after a police tactical response unit confronted him at a North End home; a case in which they couldn't even say what kind of weapon he used on himself.

And now there's the Tina Fontaine tragedy; the most recent and highest-profile death of them all.

As we learned last week, the Winnipeg Police Service isn't the only organization that has some internal investigating, and perhaps soul searching, to do about its involvement with the missing, and ultimately slain, aboriginal girl.

The province, Child and Family Services, Health Sciences Centre and Macdonald Youth Services all had contact with the vulnerable 15-year-old on Aug. 8, four days before police issued a news release reporting her missing and eight days before her body was found in the Red River.

Last Thursday, Clunis finally acknowledged two of his officers -- a field-training officer and a recruit -- had encountered Tina while she was missing but let her go.

It had taken him three weeks to report that.

Lisa Gibson

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Lisa Gibson

Neither Clunis, nor Supt. Danny Smyth, who oversees investigative operations, would say much beyond that.

Clunis's belated public statement came only after one of his homicide detectives called to brief Tina's aunt because the media was about to report the contact.

At last week's police news conference, Smyth did say he would expect officers to have detained a missing juvenile.

A former senior officer I spoke with went further. "It's a pretty simple process," the retired officer said. "You just take them into custody and bring her down to the police station, phone CFS and they basically get them or you drop them off... it's not onerous."

The former officer added if, in fact, a field-training officer was involved in mentoring a recruit, you would expect everything to be done by the book. "Because you're supposed to be teaching the kid how it's supposed to be done."

But what if she had no ID and didn't give her real name?

"If you have an adult impaired male with an obvious juvenile in the car," the former officer responded, "whether she identifies herself or not, it might prompt you to think she is maybe a child in need of protection. Whether you know she is or isn't."

Smyth mentioned something else at the news conference -- the two officers had yet to be interviewed by Professional Standards, hence he couldn't say if they knew they had Tina and she had been reported missing.

But Friday morning, a reliable source told me one or both of the officers had already spoken to homicide detectives about their encounter with Tina.

Late Friday morning, I emailed a series of questions to the police service's media handlers and copied them to Clunis. Included was one about whether homicide detectives had spoken with the officers who encountered Tina. And another asking why, three weeks later, the internal investigators hadn't spoken to them.

My email to police opened by alluding to a media report an 18-year-old woman said she had last seen Tina around 3 a.m. on Aug. 9 on Ellice Avenue, near Furby Street. Tina's street friend said she watched Tina walk with a man after he said he would pay her to perform a sex act.

She said Tina told her she would be back in 15 minutes. She never saw Tina again.

One of my questions concerned why police haven't issued anything publicly about that last sighting, or a description of the man.

Smyth's emailed response arrived Friday afternoon.

"Every investigation takes its own course," he began. He said the homicide investigation continues and "depending on the complexity of the investigation, it is not unusual for weeks to pass before subject officers are interviewed. Generally, Professional Standards investigators will interview all witnesses and collect all available information before interviewing subject officers."

Smyth said interviews have been scheduled with the two officers.

And then there was this question I wasn't really expecting to have answered, but had to ask. Why did it take three weeks for Clunis to acknowledge police had contact with Tina while she was a reported missing at-risk juvenile?

I was hoping Clunis might answer that question directly, himself. But he didn't.

So I asked the aforementioned former senior officer if he could think of any reason why he wouldn't answer.

"I guess he was hoping that it wasn't going to come out."

And who knows if it ever will?

If any of it ever will.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca