It was bitterly cold outside the courthouse, which in a way seemed right, as if all the warmth had leached out of the world and vanished into the night. What remained: a gnawing absence, a silence and a cruel and indifferent wind.
There are different kinds of justice. The one so many ached for did not visit Winnipeg on Thursday night.
Raymond Cormier, acquitted. Nearly four years after she died, nobody is accountable for the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old child recovered from the river. Her family, left without any closure for a shattering loss.
Instead, there was the wall of media, huddled and freezing around the heavy court doors. There were the First Nations leaders standing together to give shape and voice to a grief this city has heard too many times.
Too many times already, and the question that follows is worse: how many times more?
"This is a very difficult and tremendously sad day for our people," MKO Grand Chief Sheila North said. "This is not the outcome anybody wanted. The systems, everything that was involved in Tina’s life, failed her. We’ve all failed her.
"We, as a nation, need to do better for our young people," she continued.
"We must understand why our Indigenous youth are marginalized in this way and stop it — and seek to change it.
"This is not right, this is not the Canada that I want to be a part of. Our young people are precious, they’re our future. And if they’re not healthy, none of us are healthy."
So, consider this moment our charge, our instructions from a precious life lost, on how to do better.
In the coldest possible light, the verdict was right. It was, the judge reminded the jury, not on Cormier to prove his innocence, but on the Crown to prove guilt — and though the Crown tried, it could not patch the holes in its case.
The evidence against Cormier was threadbare, at best: no crime scene, no forensic evidence to tie him to a second-degree murder, not even a known cause of death. We may never truly know what happened to this child.
The most damning parts of the Crown’s case were the secretly recorded rants of a wildly erratic man. Many of his statements about Tina were shocking, repulsive and disturbing; his interest in the girl was sexually exploitative.
Sometimes, speaking to friends or undercover police or just himself, he vociferously denied a hand in her death. Other times, he seemed to confess, rambling about being "haunted by something," a reference to "threw her in."
Yet, his meandering manner of speaking muddied the context of what he was saying; it was hard to follow his train of thought. So, by the standards of this system, to hang a guilty verdict on those comments — not enough, not enough.
But justice can mean different things. So, if this kind of justice will not visit Winnipeg, perhaps others will.
Because Tina is gone, but she is still with us, a ghost to haunt everything here that must be better, that must be different.
There are two stories of what Tina meant to Winnipeg. In the first, there is the story of a vulnerable child who, despite multiple opportunities for intervention, was still swallowed up by the city’s dark and broken places.
In the days — potentially even hours — immediately before her death, Tina came into contact with multiple systems that, at least in theory, were intended to protect her: police, the health-care system and Child and Family Services.
Or, consider how Tina had been missing for two weeks before her loving great-aunt in Sagkeeng, Thelma Favel, learned that she was missing. Child welfare workers had not taken steps to inform her; she had to call herself to find out.
Yet, there is another story about what Tina meant to Winnipeg and this one is also important.
Here, too, is a city that grieved for her and stood vigil for her. Here is a city that marched shoulder-to-shoulder in her name, a city that joined calls for an inquiry — for her and other missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.
It is the chilling duality of this city that those two stories run on parallel tracks, never meeting. Both equally true, but stuck on their own journeys; the second story is more hopeful, but can seem powerless to stop the harm of the first.
The truth of it all, as ugly as it is to admit, is that Tina became Winnipeg’s loved child only after she was dead.
So what does justice look like, then, if not with someone held to account for her death?
For one: training to ensure that never again will police encounter a vulnerable girl, who had been reported missing, in a car with an older man, and simply let her go.
(The two officers in this case were suspended and later resigned.)
More, more. Changes to CFS, to ensure that never again will a struggling child be able to vanish; that families are better informed if they do; that more steps are taken to search for and locate youngsters who are at such risk.
And on the grassroots level, too, from where all violence against women and girls finds root. Whatever the truth of Cormier’s involvement, it is reasonable to say his relationship to Tina, by his own words, was sexually predatory.
The sad truth of it is, until we cut off that sickness at its root, until we can heal the violence in society to where vulnerable women and girls are not seen as disposable, or there to amuse — there will be more lives thus taken.
If this will change, let it start today. This morning, Winnipeggers will march for Tina again, this time meeting at the Law Courts Building at 10:30 a.m.
If we are to have justice, then we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to demand it.
Because there is that more hopeful story, too, the one where Tina forced a city to examine its truth. With determination, that care can interrupt the path of the harm. That process is begun, and it must be tended.
Tina is gone, and there is no conviction. The only justice for her now, is up to us to create.
Updated on Friday, February 23, 2018 at 12:16 AM CST: fixes typo