By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The best friend of a woman who was shot dead during a botched robbery sang a mourning song and called for an end to the killing of Indigenous women before a judge sentenced one of the men convicted in the crime to 15 years.
Jeanenne Chantel Fontaine, 29, was shot in March 2017 before the house she was in was set on fire.
A jury on Saturday found Christopher Brass and Jason Meilleur guilty of manslaughter.
During the sentencing hearing for Brass on Wednesday, Melissa Onndinook Stevenson said in her victim impact statement that her friend was like a butterfly — beautiful, small and strong.
But she was also in tremendous pain after her 15-year-old cousin Tina Fontaine’s body was pulled from the Red River in August 2014, Stevenson said.
“She told me the death of her cousin Tina hit her hard, really hard,” Stevenson said.
Jeanenne Fontaine’s brother testified that his sister started taking methamphetamine after their cousin’s body was found. The man accused in the teen’s death, Raymond Cormier, was acquitted last year.
The girl had also spiralled downward after a family tragedy. Her father, Eugene Fontaine, was beaten to death in 2011. Two men pleaded guilty to manslaughter and victim impact statements at their trial described how Tina had a happy childhood but was unable to cope with her father’s death and drifted away from the people closest to her.
Tina’s death sparked national outrage and renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The trial heard how three men showed up at Jeanenne Fontaine’s house to collect a drug debt from her boyfriend. When he wasn’t there, the situation turned into a botched robbery in which she was shot in the head and the house set on fire.
One of the men, Malcolm Mitchell, pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life. Meilleur is to be sentenced at a later date.
The Crown argued that Brass and Meilleur should have known the situation would turn violent and that Brass had handed the loaded gun to Mitchell.
Defence lawyers did not present evidence, but said during closing arguments that the Crown had failed to prove that a robbery was committed because a cellphone and other valuables were left untouched.
They also pointed to witness testimony that Mitchell was alone with Fontaine in the bedroom when he shot her.
Brass is already serving life sentences for the first-degree murder of Daniel Dipaolo, who was found dead in a Regina home in 2017, and for second-degree murder in the shooting of Bryer Prysianzniuk-Settee in Winnipeg in February of that same year. He will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.
Justice Gerald Chartier accepted a joint submission from lawyers for the 15-year sentence, which will be served at the same time as his other convictions.
Chartier said Brass instigated “generalized mayhem” throughout 2017 and Fontaine was one of many victims.
“A young woman, innocent of any wrong-doing, was killed … for a $45 drug debt,” Chartier said.
Outside court, Stevenson said it has been hard for family and friends to go to court for another trial of a slain loved one. But she hopes it sends a message that “the lives of our Indigenous girls matter.”
“She was important, she was loved and we are happy with the sentencing today,” Stevenson said.
“She’s not held back in any way. Her spirit is free and resting.”