Ottawa is promising its first major financial response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but the former chief commissioner says the government is falling short.
“My first impression was that it’s a large Band-Aid that the government is putting on a variety of problems,” Marion Buller said.
“When you start number crunching, it really isn’t a lot of money.”
Starting next fiscal year, the federal government wants to start spending $781.5 million over five years to combat violence against Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and two-spirit people, and $106.3 million every year after that.
Broken down, $49.3 million will go toward justice initiatives and work to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system; $8.1 million will go to strengthen community-based justice systems; and $724.1 million is aimed at launching a violence-prevention strategy, as well as funding new women’s shelters and transitional housing.
Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said the funding is badly needed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had noticed that the violence had increased, especially in the remote areas where the women were … in the same home as the perpetrator and the abuser, so they were unable to get out,” Whitman said.
Ever since her 22-year-old niece, Tamara Lynn Chipman, disappeared in 2005 along British Columbia’s Highway of Tears, Gladys Radek has travelled across the country by car and seven times by foot raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“The one thing that was most talked about is that we needed proper funding to get this journey started and try to change the minds of the Canadians about Indigenous peoples,” Radek said.
“This is a good step forward if they’re true to wanting to build that relationship with Indigenous people and stop that genocide.”
National response ‘still a work in progress’
The national inquiry issued 231 recommendations when it released its final report last year. The first on the list was to develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The federal government was supposed to unveil that plan by last June, but it blamed COVID-19 for pushing back the timeline and has not set a new release date.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations, who added that governments do not have to wait for the plan to act.
“You can make investments in housing for First Nations women, in shelters for First Nations women,” he said.
Buller said it’s unfortunate that the plan has been delayed more than a year and a half.
But she said she is glad to see people becoming empowered and commended the Yukon government for being the first to establish a response to the national inquiry.
In Monday’s fiscal update, the federal government also proposed more than $1.5 billion to lift long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations and $1.8 billion for infrastructure.
Ottawa also wants to spend $15.6 million starting next fiscal year over two years to co-develop new health legislation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation.
Buller said the money should go to the core funding of projects and programs and to allow communities to take control over the jurisdiction of services, so they can’t be cut or have limited lifespans.
“It totally misses the point,” Buller said.