Missing money for the murdered and missing

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Last March the Conservative government proudly announced that it had earmarked a whopping $10 million to address Canada’s crisis of over 580 unaccounted missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

The announcement came amidst international criticism aimed at Canada because not only are there over 580 missing and murdered Aboriginal women that had yet to be accounted for over a 30-year period but also it had no plan to address the issue either.

Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have chastised Canada numerous times in recent years in an attempt to pressure the government do something about it.

Six months after the announcement, Canadians are still waiting to find out how that money will be spent.

While the government made the pledge to spend $10 million to address the missing and murdered Aboriginal women issue, at the same time it refused to renew the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit Initiative, the organization that identified that 582 women were missing.

Sisters in Spirit haven’t had to close their doors as they have managed since on private donations but their research mandate that was funded though the government is over. There had been speculation in the spring that the Initiative might be one of the recipients for the new funding but seven months on they haven’t seen a cent of it.

“We have been trying to find out information and I am really concerned because it is now six months later and we are half way through the fiscal year and there have been no announcements.

“I have certainly heard rumours swirling around (that the money may be cut back) but we haven’t been able to confirm anything,” said Aboriginal Affairs Critic Jean Crowder of the New Democratic Party.

Though Crowder said the NDP has made numerous attempts since March to see what the plan would be for those dollars, neither the Department of Indian Affairs nor the Ministry responsible for the Status of Women have been able to produce a response.

When asked if she believed that the $10 million announcement was merely a matter of saving face, Crowder said she didn’t want to assign motives to the Conservatives but so far they haven’t had a good history.

“For example the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they talked about taking steps to have Canada endorse it but have done nothing about it and that was six months ago. It starts to look like a PR move, so I don’t trust their motives. If they are that committed to some of these initiatives, they would do something about it,” said Crowder.

Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville said that despite the Liberal Party’s efforts, they are not in the know either.

“Our concerns were over how they were going to spend the $10 million, whether it was going to go into their justice agenda or whether it was going to go into where it was needed, but we haven’t heard anything,” said Neville.

A week after she initially spoke to the Nation, Neville made a few inquiries in the House of Commons on the behalf of the magazine to see if she could get any more information.

“I did ask a question in the House today (September 28). I asked a question comparing the fact that they spent $130 million on advertising and why have they not been willing to commit to the $10 million for the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. I got a virtual non-answer from the Minister of Indian Affairs. He said that he had met with the Sisters in Spirit Initiative and that was basically it,” said Neville.

Neville pointed out however that the money for the missing and murdered Aboriginal women as it was identified in the budget was not to go through Indian Affairs but most likely for the Ministry of Justice.

While Neville said she would continue to ask questions in the House regarding the funding, particularly by pursuing the Justice Minister as well as other ministers, because time is running out before the March 31, 2011 deadline to spend that money, but she was not hopeful.

In the meantime, Sisters in Spirit will be holding their 5th annual vigils in cities, towns and reserves across Canada on October 4 to honour the lives of the 582 women and counting who have dropped off of the map and whose cases have yet to be resolved. To find a vigil near you, go to: www.vnwac.ca/programs/2010-vigil-locations


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