November 15, 2010
Angela Marie MacDougall,
Battered Women Support Services
PO Box 21503 – 1424 Commercial Dr.
The Honorable Robert Nicholson
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
The Honourable Michael de Jong, QC
Attorney General of British Columbia
232 -Parliament Buildings
Re: The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Justice Minister’s October 15, 2010 commitment to Canada’s missing and murdered women and subsequent federal government funding decisions
I am writing on behalf of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) to provide our response to the Federal Provincial Territorial Justice Minister’s October 15 commitment to “strengthen the criminal justice system’s response” to issues related to Canada’s missing and murdered women. I will be commenting on the FPT Minister’s September 2010 report entitled, Issues Related to the High Number Of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada, authored by the federal government’s Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Missing Women Working Group and on the federal government recent decisions and funding allocations on these issues.
Based in Vancouver, BWSS was established in 1979 and over the past 31 years, has daily provided support and advocacy for many thousands of British Columbia women who have experienced violence and abuse.
Together with the broad feminist anti-violence movement and many other organizations, BWSS works for the elimination of all violence against women under a mandate that includes a strong focus on systemic advocacy and law reform. BWSS also provides nation-wide training and education on violence against women to a host of community and justice-based services. We demonstrate a deep commitment to working with Aboriginal women, Refugee and Immigrant women and women of color. BWSS is a longstanding member of the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee, the Vancouver group established over 20 years ago as the leading voice advocating for justice system action and reform on the missing and murdered women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Additionally, BWSS has strong alliances with Women’s Memorial March Committees based in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg.
BWSS welcomes this tri-lateral government commitment to make addressing missing women and murdered women cases a national priority. At the same time, we are very aware that this commitment is so long overdue that many directly involved now find it highly challenging to feel optimistic about our governments’ intention to deliver the substantial systemic reforms needed to protect the lives of marginalized women in our country. Along with so many others, we find it is truly difficult to understand how our justice system has come to so profoundly abandon its responsibilities during this long period of extreme violence against Canada’s women.
Given the understandable and continuing disappointment, Canadians express over these issues, Justice Ministers must fully follow through on their stated commitment to national action – anything less would constitute yet another inexplicable betrayal. Regrettably, we find ourselves unable to react very positively to your opening efforts as it very much appears your approach has been developed absent any consultation with the women and communities most affected. There is no mention of consultation in either your September 20th report or in any of your media releases related to this initiative. We are very aware that no consultative efforts have been made with the key community-based groups and agencies in British Columbia or, indeed, in any of the western provinces. Although we are willing to stand corrected, it is also our clear impression that governments have not consulted with relevant national Aboriginal women’s organizations and perhaps have not consulted with any other national Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal associations that would have a consuming interest in these matters. Further, we are aware that there has been no consultation with the Women’s Memorial March Committees in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg who have been leading the grassroots work on these issues for the past 20 years.
BWSS is highly aware that the typical government response to criticism about a lack of consultation with affected community groups is to dismiss such concerns out of hand. However, given the near unpardonable failure of Canada’s governments to acknowledge, let alone react to the enormous and still continuing tragedy of the missing and murdered women, we hoped our governments would have responded more appropriately in this situation. We hoped our government would have understood their profound responsibility to offer respect to those women who have been murdered and are still missing and to their families and communities who hold their memory and have worked virtually every day for the past 20 years to remember and bring honor to the women. Your instinct to work in isolation on these issues means you will fail to understand the complex array of factors that need be addressed and that you will actively undermine the community’s work to protect marginalized and vulnerable women. We urge you to join with the community to work on these issues.
On this point, we particularly note the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has registered serious concerns about the lack of consultation on the Justice Ministers’ announcement related to the $10 million funding allocation for the national strategy. In their November 9th media release, NWAC publicly reversed its support for the plans outlined in the ministers’ announcement. It has called on the federal government to confirm its ongoing support to the Sisters in Spirit movement and to the Native Women’s Association of Canada in the face of funding cuts to NWAC and the exclusion of the Sisters In Spirit initiative in the development of public policy on these issues. As you are aware, NWAC identifies serious concerns about how funding to the community has been allocated noting that promises made in the 2010 budget and the Throne Speech have not been kept and that, contrary to their expectations, NWAC has not been consulted on the Justice Canada funding allocations. We also have concerns about the funding allocations, which are detailed below.
The NWAC also states that only some provinces will receive funding and that organizations that do receive funding do not have to be Aboriginal or women’s organizations. They call for more money to be allocated in the 2011 federal budget with that funding “solely dedicated to missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.” They correctly note that the government’s efforts thus far only address, “some of the short-term, immediately visible needs, but allows systemic issues to fester,” pointing to their concern that the RCMP crime centre and database efforts will only commence in 2013. They are urging that the RCMP work with NWAC to establish their information centers and databases related to these issues. We share all these concerns and are in full support of NWAC’s demands. As you will see below, we also have major concerns about the government’s intentions as regards a missing persons database and the low level of funding the strategy provides for this vital work.
We have attached BWSS’ comprehensive response to the Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Deputy Ministers Responsible for Justice Report: Issues Related to the High Number Of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada. We provide our response with the understanding that it is Canada’s justice ministers who are responsible for the implem
entation of the Murdered and Missing Women Report recommendations. We begin our comments by noting the report is seriously compromised by its striking lack of context on First Nations peoples, including any reference to Canada’s historic and deeply problematic approach to First Nations peoples. Also notable is the complete absence of an intersectional feminist analysis of violence against women. These are central factors underpinning these issues and any justice system effort to improve women’s safety must include these perspectives, if it hopes to increase women’s safety and build women’s trust in the police and the courts.We particularly want to draw your attention to the following and gratefully anticipate receiving a response to our suggestions and concerns noted here and in the attached report.
In our view, the two most significant of the many recommendations calling for system-wide change are Recommendation three and four. Recommendation 3 calls for a concerted effort from all concerned to assess safety risks to Aboriginal women and to develop local plans to respond to those risks and calls for funding for individual and group safety planning efforts be a priority.
As regards Recommendation 3, the pathetic level of funding the federal government provided in October to address missing and murdered women issues in Canada is immensely shocking to those of us who work on these issues. The $6 million in funding over two years for culturally-specific victims’ services, school-based anti-violence awareness programs and Aboriginal women’s safety services, amounts to approximately 231,000 annually for each jurisdiction in Canada. Across British Columbia, this will bring Aboriginal communities two victim services workers, with a remaining $80,000 for school and community programs and Aboriginal women’s safety programs for our entire province. We simply cannot comprehend why the federal government could think this amount of funding responds to the horrific level of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
We call on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to work together to provide the actual level of community and counseling funding support that is necessary to ensure the safety and protection of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
Recommendation 4 calls on the FPT Community Safety and Crime Prevention Working Group to examine the need to make the personal safety of women a priority. Taken together, these two recommendations symbolize an approach that makes women’s safety paramount and, to be meaningful, these recommendations must be implemented across the full range of our country’s justice systems.
Therefore, we are directly calling on Canada’s Justice Ministers to immediately support our call for the convening of a national roundtable on missing and murdered women. The round table effort will include the participation of the FPT Status of Women Ministers and Justice Ministers together with the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and related provincial and territorial ministries to create a true national strategy to address the ongoing tragedy of Canada’s missing and murdered women. We would fully expect that relevant community, provincial and national organizations and associations would be given an opportunity to play an important role in the roundtable process and its outcomes and that representation from other key groups including Canada’s judges, crown attorneys and local and national police agencies would be strongly encouraged. We look forward to your response to our request.
In this regard, Minister de Jong, we note the recent posting on your ministry’s web page on the Missing Women Working Group Report which explains that the MWWG report issued on October 15, “is a condensed version of the final report” and that the full report will be provided to all Justice Ministers in 2011. This clearly indicates there is still significant time to initiate a comprehensive consultation process to inform the national round table initiative we here recommend.
Moving on to other key areas of the report, we strongly support the majority of the report’s recommendations related to improving police response to missing persons’ cases including the creation of national searchable missing persons database. In addition, we support the report’s recommendation on training and further urge that law enforcement training must include training on violence against women and, as regards First Nations people, must be mandatory and comprehensive as to First Nations histories and cultures and must be developed and delivered with the closest possible collaboration of First Nations trainers. We do echo NWAC concerns that neither the WWWG report nor the Justice Ministers’ national strategy addresses police/RCMP jurisdictional issues, which issues played a major role in the failure to identify William Pickton as a probable suspect in the murders of women in Vancouver.
Finally, we support the federal government’s recent decision to amend the “Criminal Code to streamline the warrants application process where wiretaps are required in missing person cases.” Regarding the database specifically, we note the federal government has allocated $4 million over the next two years for a national crime centre, national tip line and ‘enhancements’ to Canada’s law enforcement database systems with an additional $6 million for data base enhancement promised for some point in the future. However, we know this amount of funding is grossly inadequate to the task of designing, operating and supporting a successful national searchable database for missing persons, noting as well that support costs will include security, administration and training.
The NWWG report is highly revealing of the myriad problems associated with the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) national database and relates that efforts to create a missing persons index have failed since 2003. Our understanding is that work undertaken in 2005 has been stalled since 2006 because the federal government refuses to pay all the costs associated with creating and operating a national searchable missing persons database. In this context, we note the federal government intends to spend $100 million dollars in new prison construction in the next year in support of its law and order agenda. At a time when law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling to use database systems that are seriously inadequate, we urge the federal government to allocate its resources to creating a fully functional crime database system in Canada.
Finally, we would greatly appreciate your providing us with the following information: A listing of government-based justice, Aboriginal and women’s working groups currently associated with coordinating federal-provincial and territorial responses to issues associated with missing and murdered women, including information on the mandates and goals of such groups. Contact information for officials in your respective ministries that we can go to for information on your governments’ plans on the missing and murdered women’s national strategy. Any information related to national strategy implementation planning, including goals, timelines, strategy outcomes and plans for evaluation.
Please feel free to have your staff contact me should you require any further information on our services or on BWSS’ perspectives on the FPT Justice Ministers’ national strategy on Canada’s missing and murdered women.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Battered Women’s Support Services
Angela Marie MacDougall
Honourable Felix Collins Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Newfoundlandjustice@gov.nl.ca
Honourable Doug Currie Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Prince Edward Islanddwcurrie@gov.pe.ca
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Honourable Rich Coleman Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor GeneralSG.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Honourable Jackson Lafferty Minister of Justice Northwest Territoriesjackson_lafferty@gov.nt.ca
Honourable Marian Horne Minister of Justice, Yukon Marian.Horne@govyk.ca
Honourable Keith PetersonMinister of Justice, Nunavutnpashkoski@gov.nu.ca