Tina Fontaine/Raymond Cormier, Sebastian Burns/Atif Rafay

The murder of Tina Fontaine and the subsequent acquittal of Raymond Cormier points to many things that need fixing in Canada. Some of those things, like the uncaring treatment and neglect of youthful indigenous people, have been going on without remedy for more than one hundred years.

I want to focus on one aspect of the case because it has bearing on the wrongful convictions of Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns. Mr. Cormier certainly had contact with this child and was a logical suspect. The problem with the case, as I see it, was the absence of forensic evidence tying Cormier to the crime. The jury saw it likewise. The RCMP failed to come up with anything other than anecdotal evidence. So, what did they do? They launched a Mr. Big sting. Sound familiar? Nothing he said in that sting was an admission of guilt, but, even if he had confessed to them, the trial would have been polluted by Mr. Big. I thought that the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled out Mr. Big stings in the absence of forensic or other convincing evidence but I guess not.

Cormier was found not guilty. The case was not ready to go to trial. If Rafay and Burns were to be tried now in a Canadian court (it’s illegal to use such stings in the USA), they would also be acquitted. People are more likely now to view Mr. Big outcomes with a raised eyebrow or plain cynicism. No forensic evidence ever implicated Rafay and Burns in the bloody murders of the Rafay family. The confessions should have been worthless, given their airtight alibis. But the State of Washington holds on to these convictions; they think they have the right guys. They may think so but the Tina Fontaine case shows that convictions should not be the result of coercion and intimidation of witnesses.

Maybe Raymond Cormier did murder Tina Fontaine. Her death is an unmitigated tragedy, whoever was responsible. But a wrongful conviction (and finding Cormier guilty despite the lack of evidence would have been a wrongful conviction) only adds to the tragedy by destroying another innocent life. Cormier may have done reprehensible things but justice is not served unless evidence other than self-incrimination is unearthed.

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About ken

I am a former Toronto teacher and writer now living in Vancouver. I work with Dr. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, with whom I published Eye of the Hurricane: My path from Darkness to Freedom (Chicago review Press, 2011), as Director of Media Relations and as an advocate for wrongly convicted prisoners. Other publication credits include Songs of Aging Children (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992) a book of short stories about troubled youth, and Taking Steam, a play co-authored with the late Brian Shein, staged at New York's Jewish Repertory Theatre and Toronto in 1983. Life Without (Quattro Books, 2012) is a novella about a New York cab driver wrongly convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Gary Geddes (Lt. Governor's Award for Literary Excellence) described it as "one of the most brilliant and harrowing short novels I've read since I went on a John Hawkes binge."

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