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Clothes from riverbank are Tina Fontaine’s, family believes

A memorial to 15 year old Tina Fontaine sits on the Alexander Docks along the Red river from which her body, in a bag, was recovered Sunday in Winnipeg Manitoba, August 19, 2014.

LYLE STAFFORD/The Globe and Mail

Police collected clothing from a Winnipeg riverbank that family members believe belonged to slain 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River wrapped in plastic earlier this month.

Tina's mother, Valentina Duck, said her sister had been canvassing the Alexander Docks area for evidence last week when she found a pair of underwear, jeans and a grey and blue jacket that Ms. Duck recognized as her daughter's.

Ms. Duck said she called the police on Friday and two officers came to the site, which was near the Provencher Bridge and about one kilometre from where the aboriginal teen's body was recovered. Using gloves, the officers placed the clothing in a plastic bag, she said.

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"The cops said they would go through it and check it out," Ms. Duck said, adding that the clothes were found near blankets, syringes and empty alcoholic cooler bottles.

Constable Eric Hofley confirmed Tina's mother pointed out the clothing and that officers took it from the scene, but he said he couldn't discuss whether investigators believe the items belonged to Tina.

Police haven't revealed how the teen died or whether she was sexually assaulted, although the lead investigator, Sergeant John O'Donovan, said the girl "has definitely been exploited and taken advantage of." Constable Hofley said he couldn't speak to whether Tina was clothed when police divers found her body on Aug. 17.

The teen's case has sparked renewed calls for a national inquiry into Canada's more than 1,000 murdered and missing aboriginal women. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rebuffed those appeals, saying Tina's death is first and foremost a crime – not part of a "sociological phenomenon" requiring further study.

Tina had for a decade lived with her aunt, Thelma Favel, first on Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation reserve and later in Powerview-Pine Falls. But she had recently reconnected with Ms. Duck, her estranged mother, and had travelled to Winnipeg on July 1 for what was supposed to be a five-day visit.

When Ms. Favel couldn't reach Tina by phone in mid-July, she reported her missing, as she had done when the teen ran away several times earlier this year. Ms. Favel also contacted Child and Family Services (CFS) and asked that Tina be temporarily placed in their care.

Ms. Duck, who has struggled with alcoholism, said Tina stayed with her in Winnipeg in early July, during which time the teen wore the grey and blue jacket. After about 10 days, Ms. Duck said CFS workers and police officers removed Tina from the home. She believes her daughter then lived with a foster family and spent time at her boyfriend's, though she isn't sure.

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Ms. Duck said she last saw Tina in early August at the city's downtown mall, Portage Place. The teen was at the mall with her boyfriend, Cody, and was wearing the grey and blue jacket around her waist, she said.

"We said goodbye, I told her to call me later, and she said she would," Ms. Duck said. "She called once or twice, and then I didn't hear from her after that … I want answers."

Last week, some 16 detectives scoured a swath of Winnipeg's downtown core that Tina was known to frequent. "They flooded the area," Constable Hofley said. "Teams were out looking for possible witnesses who may have seen Tina around the time of her disappearance."

Asked for an update, he said the investigation is ongoing and that no arrests have been made.

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