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Red River Girl

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Being in the US, I don't remember hearing about the murder of Tina Fontaine back in 2014, but it was a huge case in Canada that brought about more attention to the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and children. This book was a fascinating account of Fontaine's life as well as the investigation into her death. Jolly did an immense amount of research but this book wasn't bogged down by facts and details. Instead, it gave a honest and heart-wrenching look at an issue that has gone underreported for decades. I was a little bummed that the book sort of gave away the result of Fontaine's case at the very beginning, it was still an interesting insight into a case that made a huge impact on a lot of people. Definitely a recommend for fans of this kind of nonfiction and true crime.

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Red River Girl is not just the true story of what happened to Tina Fontaine back in the summer of 2014, but more specifically how Raymond Cormier, charged with her murder was arrested and then acquitted of the crime.

The author, journalist Joanna Jolly, shows us behind the victim's final few weeks and an insight into the world in which she lived. Heart-wrenching, this book will stay with you for a long time.

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A true crime novel dealing with the death of a Indian girl in Winnipeg Canada. A gripping and disturbing crime. Told well and a page turner. Fantastic.

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We are taken inside the investigation of the death of Tina Fontaine by journalist Joanna Jolly, and the corresponding trail of her accused killer Raymond Cormier.
Her body found in Winning in the red river in 2014, Tina became a symbol and inquiry into the missing ands murdered indigenous women in Canada
Jolly did an excellent job in all the details of a complex matter that has really been a prominent issue and needed more light shed to this issue in Canada

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The Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly is a 2019 Viking publication.

If this case got any media attention here in the US, I don’t recall it. This true crime case is centered around Tina Fontaine, an indigenous teenage girl, whose body was discovered in the Red River in Winnipeg, Canada. Searchers were looking for another person, they feared had died, when they found Tina’s body.

Tina’s case brought attention to the shocking number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, when it made national headlines.

Here, journalist Joanna Jolly follows Tina’s case from the discovery of her body to the stunning trial of the man accused of murdering her. The primary focus of the book, however, is on the investigation, which eventually led to an arrest. There is also some focus on the Canadian system, many blame for having failed girls like Tina. The trial brings the case to a surreal close.

This is a very frustrating and sad book. As an American, I’m not at all familiar with Canadian laws, or their social system, but the core issues at play are very familiar, unfortunately.

The author did a terrific job of highlighting the challenges law enforcement faced and pointing a light of the various social and political issues that could no longer be shoved under the carpet.

The only downside to the author’s straightforward, journalistic style and approach, was that it didn’t leave much room for the reader to get to know Tina in a more personal way. Bringing the victim to life, might have driven the point home in a more forceful, emotional way, making it harder to forget this case and others like it.

The conclusion and outcome of the case was riveting and utterly gut punching! Although I knew ahead of time what the outcome would be, I still sat with my mouth hanging open trying to digest it all.

Overall, this is a very absorbing true crime book. For me, it was also a learning experience. The book is very effective, well researched and organized. True Crime enthusiast, no matter which country you hail from, should read this book!

4 stars

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** spoiler alert ** I have not heard of this case prior to reading this book. I have never heard of the term indigenous people before since we call them Native Americans. Working in the criminal justice system in the US I had concerns about how the investigation was being handled and was not surprised by the verdict. There may be information not in this book that may have caused me to believe otherwise, but this book has me leaning towards not guilty. Tragically this is something seen a lot with victims of human trafficking and I hope one day this family sees justice for what has happened to Tina. No one should have to live through the death of their child or grandchild

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As proud as I am to be Canadian, there are many things I wish I could change.  There are even things that make me ashamed of my country and one of those things is how Indigenous people have historically been treated. Even more horrifying is that although it is finally improving, at least in some areas, Indigenous people still face an unconsciounable amount of racial discrimination to this very day. This racism and discrimination is not limited to Canada, and is a Continent-Wide issue.

The reason I bring up racism is because it is definitely a factor of Tina Fontaine's disappearance and murder as chronicled in RED RIVER GIRL.

Author Joanna Jolly has researched Tina Fontaine's life from childhood up to, and even after her death. I believe that Joanna Jolly's experience as not only a journalist and author, but also as a documentary film maker has culminated in a book that must be read. She does not shy away from disclosing the horror that Tina experienced in her short fifteen years of life. Not does she gloss over the cultural stigma Tina lived with every day of her life.

This book not only highlights the life and death of Tina Fontaine, it also highlights the excellent investigative skills shown by the dogged police detective who pulled out all the stops to find Tina's killer and to bring him to justice. However, that was not to be.

When killer Raymond Cormier's trial ended up with him being acquitted, people across Canada (myself included) were both outraged and dismayed. The only positive that came from that trial was the spotlight that was shone on the horrific epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

If you care about the truth, if you care about our Indigenous population, if you want to be more informed regarding Indigenous homelessness, as well as other related topics, you need to buy a copy of this book.

I rate RED RIVER GIRL as 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

*** Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free copy of this book. ***

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Journalist Joanna Jolly takes us inside the investigation into the death of Tina Fontaine, and the subsequent trial of her accused killer, Raymond Cormier.
Her body found in the Red River in Winnipeg in 2014, Tina Fontaine became a symbol and a rallying cry for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
Joanna Jolly is not Canadian, and even admits to not having very much knowledge of the internal issues Canada faces. But I do not say this as a criticism. In fact, I think her being non-Canadian actually helps her give as unbiased of a depiction of this case and what it represents at large.
I read this book as a white, born-and-raised Canadian, my own cultural heritage firmly planted at the intersection of my country's colonizers: French and British. I have no knowledge of any Indigenous heritage in my family, and grew up largely oblivious to the plight of First Nations, despite living less than an hour from a reserve. My view of First Nations issues was almost entirely conjecture and, until I got to university, hadn't been challenged or been interested in challenging that view. I believe I suffered from what most Canadians suffer from: a totally ignorant view of their own country. Several classes I took in university certainly gave that view a tune-up. By the time I got to reading this book, I'd like to think that I've reached a point where I'm not nearly as ignorant as I used to be.
Even Ms Jolly admits that her own views of Canada were of the stereotypical variety: beer-drinking, hockey-loving friendly folk, living peacefully within a mosaic of multiculturalism, a veritable role model of peace for the world. As she delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Tina's death, it is clear that her own views of Canada are challenged.
While this book at times was exhaustive in its details, this was such a complex matter, that one can't really fault her for that. And despite some parts focussing firmly on the prime suspect, Mr Cormier, I never got the sense that Tina was lost in the investigation, or this book. This book was about Tina, and was for Tina.
I can't speak to the experiences of Indigenous women simply because I am not one. But I do think that this book should be required reading for all non-Indigenous Canadians.

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A sad, compelling read, not only about the horrific crime, but also highlighting the treatment of indigenous women. It is beautifully written, and there is nothing salacious or gratuitous about this true crime.

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"The wide, frozen snake of the Red River curved through the city's landscape, a timeless witness to all that had gone before and all that would come."

BBC journalist Joanna Jolly learned of the murder of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, when a colleague in her Washington, DC office cited the case as an example of Canadians' racism. Jolly was taken aback -- she'd never had that impression of Canada or Canadians -- and began looking into one of the country's most notorious murder cases, particularly among those of First Nations women.

Canada does have a long, ugly history with missing and murdered Indigenous women, which Jolly details as she researches further. The culprits behind this unfortunate pattern are grim but unsurprising, the type of issues that it's always been easier to turn away from rather than confront and manage, and Canada isn't alone in its handling of such things.

"I began to grasp the extent of the violence and its connection to poverty, historical racism, and marginalization. I learned that over the past few decades, hundreds of Indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing and that many of their cases had not been solved."

Tina's body was found in August 2014, in Winnipeg's Red River. She was half-Ojibway, half-Cree, and much about who she was has been lost in the lurid details surrounding her death. Even as young as she was, Tina's life hadn't been easy -- she was heavily affected by the death of her father, who'd raised her, then bounced between relatives and child services before running away towards a troubled mother and ultimately, involvement in drugs and the seedier side of Winnipeg.

But in a trend that's thankfully becoming more widespread in true crime, Jolly focuses on establishing more about Tina's life before her death, while at the same time meticulously detailing the investigation, apprehension, and trial of a suspect. She writes in the prologue:

"Fierce, funny, protective, brave, risk-taking, she was a young woman trying to forge her identity and make difficult choices in what was often a dangerous world... One small consolation is that Tina's legacy lives on as the face of a movement for much-needed change. As her guardian, Thelma, said of her, "She carried her message strong.""

This becomes an interesting and well explored thread in the narrative -- Tina's life in the context of the city, and of being a young Indigenous woman with a troubled background there, and what specific choices that presented. It's as much a sociological study of this facet of Canadian life, and how it plays into the country's identity and attitudes -- namely, that Indigenous people, women in particular, are allowed to slip through the cracks -- as it is a crime story. She includes interviews and perspectives from Tina's loved ones, making this a sensitive portrait of her life that has a lot to say about crime and justice and their relation to Indigenous women.

Even with so many elements at play, Jolly handles them deftly, providing useful and thorough cultural context and rich descriptions. It's highly readable -- Jolly's journalism includes work as a documentary filmmaker, and this storytelling experience shows in her choices for structuring the narrative, which does read almost film-like at times. 

The Winnipeg police used the controversial "Mr. Big" sting to trap their suspect in Tina's murder, Robert Cormier. If you've seen the "True East" episode from Netflix's Confession Tapes, you'll recognize this method. It entails tricking a suspect into believing they've befriended a big fish in organized crime. This new friend, an undercover officer, pretends to learn that the suspect is lying about a crime police believe he was involved in. The undercover officers win his trust and convince him that in order to ensure his criminal pals can protect him from police, he has to tell them everything. It's an ethically murky tactic, but undercover operations aren't exactly new.

This part of the book reminded me of Mark Bowden's The Last Stone from earlier this year. Jolly worked closely with the detectives involved in the operation to catch Cormier in order to depict these events in behind-the-scenes detail, dialogue and all. It's a compelling read, even if the judicial outcome ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.

What this book does best is shine a light on the prevalence of crime against Indigenous women and the failure of the justice system in addressing it, a topic that's been edging further into the spotlight and has even been designated a genocide. And it gives something back to Tina Fontaine, one story among the many but here, at least, no longer merely a statistic.

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This is the tragic true story of Tina Fontaine, a 15 year old Sagkeeng First Nation girl from Winnipeg who, in 2014, went missing and was later found dead. This is probably the most well-known case of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) and Joanna Jolly provides an organized, thorough examination of the facts of the case. She includes Tina's childhood, upbringing, troubles, family, poverty, addictions, and more. We learn about the extensive police investigation, circumstances of Tina's death, how she was found, and possible suspects. The police (and Jolly, in the book) turn the focus to Raymond Cormier, who was eventually charged with Tina's murder and went to trial. This is a heartwrenching but informative look into this sad case, which is indicative of so many others. If you don't know about the MMIWG movement, please go to to learn more.

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Red River Girl: The life and death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly. Penguin Random House Canada, 304 pages. $24.95 paperback, $11.99 E-Book.

A lot of Canadians were puzzled by one of the conclusions in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG). The inquiry found that the tragic number of women involved amounted to an act of genocide. A new book by British journalist Joanna Jolly helps us understand the truth behind the inquiry’s conclusions.
Red River Girl tells the story of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous woman murdered in Winnipeg in 2014. Although a man was charged with her murder in 2015, he was acquitted by a jury in February 2018. Jolly presents Fontaine’s story almost as a police procedural. Most of her sources are connected to the Winnipeg police. She also untangles the somewhat scattered, often incoherent and sometimes self-serving memories of people who knew Fontaine in the last few months of her young life.
Make no mistake about it. Fontaine’s story was searingly tragic. She was born in the Sagkeeng First Nation, about 120 km north-east of Winnipeg and raised there by a great-aunt. Her mother was largely absent from her life. Her father was beaten to death when she was 12. Her school work began to suffer as a result and by the time she was 15 she was a frequent runaway. She ran to the city in attempts to reconnect with her mother. This brought her into contact with the predators who feed on Winnipeg's inner city poverty.
It is fair to say that the most positive times for Fontaine were when she managed to connect with the stable elders of her community and was able to feel the language and culture that ought to have been hers. These moments were always thwarted by the men who fed her growing drug addiction and, despite her young age, lured her into the sex trade.
Worse still was the failure of the child protection system to shield her from the dangers of life on Winnipeg’s streets. On one occasion, within days of her death, she was a passenger in a pickup truck stopped by police at about five o’clock in the morning. The two constables failed to wonder why a young Indigenous woman was in the truck at that hour. They did not follow up on a missing person alert circulated earlier that night. They arrested the driver for minor traffic offenses and allowed Fontaine to walk away.
On many occasions when workers from Children and Family Services (CFS) did have Fontaine in their care, they would leave her in a downtown hotel room. This teenage runaway, picked up on a missing person report, was left unsupervised. She was able to walk out unnoticed at any time, and the drug dealers who had her in their clutches could wander the hotel corridors unimpeded. Of all the things CFS managed to do, protecting Tina Fontaine did not make it onto the list.
Jolly does a good job of reporting the details of Fontaine’s life and the unsuccessful search for her killer. She also makes it clear that Fontaine’s life and death were not unusual. Her tragedy was not unique. She was neither the first nor the last Indigenous woman to go missing and to be murdered. The RCMP estimate that nearly 1,200 had been murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada puts the number at closer to 4,000 over 40 years. In any event, Jolly writes, while Indigenous women make up only four per cent of Canada’s female population, almost half of all women murdered are Indigenous.
Tina Fontaine’s murder was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back. It galvanized Canada’s Indigenous community and captured national attention. Six months later, the federal government set up a national inquiry to gather the truth about this epidemic of violence.
The executive summary of the National Inquiry's final report states:
“Racist colonial attitudes justified Canada’s policies of assimilation, which sought to eliminate First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples as distinct peoples and communities. (…) The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue. The National Inquiry … finds that this amounts to genocide.”
If you want to understand the roots of the ongoing assault on the Indigenous population of our country, get a copy of Red River Girl. Then go online and get a copy of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Then read them and weep.
(Red River Girl is published by Penguin Random House Canada with a release date of 27 August 2019. An advance review copy was made available through #RedRiverGirl #NetGalley)

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My knowledge of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada is better than the average American, but this book showed me how little I do know. While I’ve heard of Tina Fontaine, I didn’t know the particulars of her case or of the particulars of the investigation. Reading about the evidence against the main suspect and the outcome of the case against him, my heart is broken. This book is beyond engaging and powerful. I hope for justice for Tina and all of the missing and murdered in Canada. I’ll definitely be purchasing this next week after it’s release next week. Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance to read and review this book.

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A heartbreaking look into the murder of a young girl in Winnipeg, Canada, and the systemic racism that the case brought to national attention. Tina Fontaine, a young Indigenous girl, was only 15 years old when she was found dumped into the Red River and this book chronicles both her short life and death, as well as the police investigation into her murder. It also explores the centuries of racism suffered by the Indigenous tribes and the startlingly high number of the kidnapping and murder of its women.

The author does a great job of personalizing Tina and her family, as well as exploring the inherent hopelessness of the poverty and drug use in reservation life that could lead a young girl to a terrible fate. However, I feel that the story deviated from it's focus on the victim towards the last part of the book. While the con the police played on the only suspect (another point of issue) was interesting, it left the latter half of the book feeling unfocused. Still, this novel was a great insight into the plight of Indigenous people in Canada and I hope that attention results in some real changes.

A special thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Red River Girl is the story of Tina Fontaine, an aboriginal girl who was found murdered on the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg. Being from Winnipeg, this story hit incredibly close to home. The book was well written, unbiased, carefully researched and a really interesting and heartbreaking look into the problems within the multiple agencies in this city, and how they are failing some who desperately need help.

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This book touched me in so many different ways. I guess I was blind to the ways in which indigenous people (especially indigenous women) are treated in Canada. This is the story of the murder of a young indigenous girl, Tina, whose body was found by the Red River in Winnipeg. It is clear that the police efforts to solve the case, and the pursuit of justice were something that was new in this area. Many earlier disappearances and deaths were just glanced over and then quickly forgotten by authorities. This case shows how Tina's family searched for justice. I really enjoyed it and learned a great deal. Jolly is an excellent writer and she knows how to hold a reader's attention, even when discussing such a difficult case. I highly recommend this book. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I went back and forth between whether I even wanted to read this book or not. When it was first brought to my attention that a book about Tina Fontaine was being released this year, I thought, "good". When I found out that it was written by a British journalist based out of London, England, I couldn't help but feel apprehensive, wondering why she wanted to be the one to tell Tina's story and to put it in the form of a true crime book.

I'm relieved to say that I found Jolly's handling of this case to be, for the most part, well done, and it is clear throughout the book that she took the case very seriously. While the subtitle of the book is 'The Life And Death Of Tina Fontaine', the book definitely leans more toward her death - specifically focusing mostly on her accused killer, Raymond Cormier, and how the use of a Mr. Big sting lead to his being the prime suspect in the case, as well as how his trial ended in a shocking acquittal. The author goes quite in depth into these two aspects of Tina's case and really gives the reader an idea of who Cormier is and how Winnipeg detectives struggled to get an official confession out of him.

However, as well done as those two aspects of the book are, I felt like Tina's story got slightly lost within it. This is not to say that I think the author didn't care enough about Tina - it was evident to me that she did care about Tina. But I would have liked for her to have written more comprehensively about the Child Welfare workers and the police who so tragically failed Tina. It is such a huge factor into what happened to Tina, and I felt that the role that systemic racism, dehumanization and apathy plays into the all too common failures of young Indigenous boys and girls in this country should have been more of a focal point in telling this story.

Let us not forget that the same night she disappeared, police officers spoke to Tina, who was a passenger in a truck known to police for soliciting prostitution (and, in fact, had been stopped just a few hours earlier that night for that very thing), ran her name through their database, saw that she was marked as being missing and only fifteen years old and at high risk of sexual exploitation, and for some reason decided to let her go. That fact in itself, and the institutional connotations that go with it, could take up an entire book alone. I personally felt that it was just a tad too succinctly discussed in the book, whereas Raymond Cormier's bizarre life and interests, as well as lead investigator John O'Donovan's melancholic feelings on Tina's death were especially elaborated on. Perhaps the book could have been slightly longer, so as to have more opportunity and space to delve further into Canada's systemic problems regarding its treatment of Indigenous youth and its role in what lead to Tina's murder for those who come into this book with little or no prior knowledge.

Still, overall, this book does do a good job at detailing the fundamentals of Tina Fontaine's case. And anything that aids in bringing her story to more people is a good thing.

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This is author Joanna Jolly’s debut book on the death of Tina Fontaine. Tina was a Canadian girl, one of a number of aboriginal females who had gone missing and later turned up dead in the Red River. It’s written about as part of a larger problem of sexual exploitation with so many aboriginal young females. But the focus is on this girl for the purposes of this book. There is a lot of pressure for the police to make some progress in the case, and it continues to grow. There are several suspects, and they are careful to take the time to rule them out correctly before focusing on the final one. All of that takes time. The final suspect turns out to be very slippery, and they have to go above and beyond to convince themselves and the Crown that it’s the correct person.

I found this to be an engaging true story of Tina Fontaine’s life and tragic killing. She was just beginning to test her wings in a larger city, and when allowed a bit of freedom took too much and got in over her head. I’d recommend it for true crime readers. It held my interest quite well, and I’d recommend it. A good first effort for Ms. Jolly. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Joanna Jolly, and the publisher.

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‘Tina’s death had triggered nationwide anger, amplifying the calls for a government inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.’


Joanne Jolly dives deep into the story of the tragic death of 15 year old Tina Fontaine. She also sheds light on the disturbing accounts of many other Indigenous women in Canada that are being murdered.

The time and effort Sergeant John O’Donovan puts into constructing Tina’s last days is remarkable. It truly shows how much he cares.

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Thank you to NetGalley for providing this copy for review purposes.

This book made me angry because it’s the story about Tina Fontaine, a fifteen year old Indigenous girl, who was murdered in 2014. It made me angry because she was tossed into the river like fucking garbage and how Indigenous women are treated.

The investigation was interesting, but I still feel there was so much injustice and my heart hurts.

Also the guy that was investigated was creepy and shady as fuck.

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