A native women's organization praised for uncovering cases of missing or killed aboriginal women is in financial limbo despite a multimillion-dollar government promise to provide funding.
The Sisters In Spirit initiative added 62 new names Wednesday to the more than 500 cases of missing or killed native women and girls it has uncovered over the past five years.
Government funding for the initiative run by the Native Women's Association of Canada expired at the end of March. There's been no word on whether it will be extended, even though this year's federal budget pledged $10-million over two years to address the very problem the group researches.
The money will be spent on the issue, but it may not be going to Sisters In Spirit.
"We don't know what this $10-million will be allocated for at the moment, but we do look forward to hearing an announcement … to actually find out exactly what the plans are," Sisters In Spirit director Kate Rexe said.
The government has dodged questions about how and when the money will be spent since budget day. Opposition parties slammed the government for stalling and demanded answers Wednesday in response to the group's new findings.
Irene Mathyssen, NDP critic on the status of women, said the Sisters In Spirit - not the government - should decide how the $10-million is spent.
"They've done the legwork, they've talked to the families, they've talked to those who have been victimized … and because they've done all of this research, they're in the best position to say, 'All right, what needs to happen?' " she said.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, whose department is responsible for providing the funding, shed little light on the money promised to the group's cause in the last budget.
"I can say that the government will be investing $10-million over two years to address the disturbingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal people," Mr. Nicholson said.
"We will work with provinces, territories, aboriginal people and other stakeholders for effective solutions. After all, we all have a stake in finding a solution to this terrible problem."
Sisters In Spirit found that native females are more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-native women. An initiative report says many victims are targeted simply because they are native and their attackers assume they will not fight back or be missed.
Nearly half of all murder cases involving first nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls remain unsolved. The rate is dramatically different for cases in which non-aboriginal women are killed - 84 per cent are cleared by charges or other means.
Sisters In Spirit offered rare words of praise for Helena Guergis for supporting their project before losing her job as minister for the status of women.
"Minister Guergis, for a lot of the criticism that she's received, was a huge champion for us to actually make sure that this issue was ongoing," Ms. Rexe said.
Ms. Guergis responded with warm words.
"No matter where I end up politically, personally or professionally, the plight of aboriginal women will be one that I will always advocate for, and I will continue to honour their strength and resilience," Ms. Guergis told The Canadian Press.
Ms. Rexe said that before Ms. Guergis left cabinet, she arranged for the Sisters In Spirit to continue its work until the end of this year. But the group still has no idea how much funding it has to operate for the next eight months. And it can't make plans for the long term until its future is certain.
Ms. Rexe said the Sisters In Spirit wants to establish supports for victims and train law enforcement - often first responders - to be more attuned to the unique experiences of native women and girls. She said reported cases of missing native females are often not taken seriously by police.
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