The federal government has released its action plan to address violence against aboriginal women, and the message appears to be: stay the course.
The action plan lists programs and initiatives the government has already committed to doing to address the issue.
According to the plan, $25 million will be spent over the next five years for things like developing community safety plans and programs that empower women, engage men or support victims.
That money was first announced in 2010 and renewed earlier this year as part of the government’s economic action plan.
In addition, the government will spend close to $160 million over five years for ongoing operations funding for 41 women’s shelters in aboriginal communities across the country and domestic abuse prevention programs.
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, critic for aboriginal affairs, has slammed the government for framing the announcement as if it is doing something new to address the issue.
“It is unbelievably frustrating that this government thinks that it can cobble this report together and table it in the House of Commons,” she said in an interview with the News yesterday.
“The idea that you re-announce the $25 million – the $5 million a year for five years that was in the 2010 budget and was in the 2014 budget – is really not OK, when it’s made to look like it’s new money that will address this problem.”
Earlier this year while visiting Whitehorse, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that violence against aboriginal women should be viewed as crime, not “a sociological phenomenon.”
By doing so he is “completely abdicating his responsibility to actually prevent” violence, said Bennett.
“I think the thing that upset me the most is that this was announced as a way to stop the violence, when really most of this is about after the person is missing or murdered. We want prevention. We want the government to admit it is a sociological phenomenon, and there have to be serious measures put in place to examine the root causes and then address them.”
Despite the prime minister’s rhetoric, the action plan actually does deal in a substantive way with prevention activities.
The five-year plan earmarks $66 million for domestic abuse prevention programs, and $8.6 million for building safety plans that bring together community members and RCMP to share knowledge and talk about ways to better keep people safe.
The plan also gives $2.5 million for projects designed to build healthy relationships and $5 million for projects designed to engage with men and empower women to denounce and prevent violence.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef told the News this week that he will soon meet with stakeholders to talk about how the territory can make the most of this funding.
Some of the initiatives will benefit the Yukon “rather automatically,” he said, giving examples including police liaison positions, a promised DNA-based missing person databank and “generally policy adaptations that will make federal policing and federal support services far more responsive to the communities.”
But the “specific and tangible” interventions must be guided by local initiatives and proposals, he said.
“Communities need to be highly involved in the development of their own plans,” said Leef.
“There are some very different and very unique circumstances that communities have that can only be fixed at the community level, and can only be determined by communities.
“It will be my pleasure and obviously responsibility to sit down with stakeholders and go through the funds that will be available and the funds that can be applied for.”
The federal government has consistently denied the need for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, despite calls from opposition parties and every province and territory.
Even Leef committed to vote for an inquiry if such a request were brought to Parliament, “regardless of who tables it in the House.”
Now Leef says he needs to talk with Yukoners before he can say if he still supports the call.
“That question will only be answered after Yukon residents have had the opportunity to review the action plan and assess that against the realities and needs of the territory,” he said in a written statement this morning.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at