A 10-day Twitter and Facebook campaign designed to locate missing women is being called insensitive by an advocate for murdered and missing aboriginal women.
In the campaign, designed to generate discussion, awareness and tips on cases, the RCMP share 10 cases of missing aboriginal women on the social media sites. It's now in its third year.
"I think any sort of efforts to bring awareness about some of our women and girls that are missing is great. I think this campaign, however, is insulting," said Leah Gazan, a University of Winnipeg professor and an advocate for missing and murdered aboriginal women.
"When you're celebrating 10 dedicated days a year for a limited amount of women I think it's far, far less than a cry for a celebration."
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But according to Cpl. Dawn Metallic of the National Aboriginal Policing Services for the RCMP in Ottawa, the project has been a success so far.
"It's been shared, it's being retweeted. Using our own Facebook accounts we can see who was able to do that and who is sharing and who is providing comments also," Metallic said.
Metallic couldn't say whether any tips had come in as a direct result of the campaign, nor whether it has led to any leads in missing persons cases.
Timed to Sisters in Spirit vigil
This year, the campaign is being held from Oct. 5 to Oct. 14 to coincide with the Sisters in Spirit vigils held by the Native Women's Association of Canada.
"We did consult with a couple of the aboriginal organizations to see when was a good time to do it. The time we selected with them was after the Sisters in Spirit vigils. It's for them to raise their awareness and for us to continue that," said Metallic.
Gazan said Sisters in Spirit has faced major funding cuts under the Conservative government, and the funding hasn't been restored.
"They completely cut the funding to Sisters in Spirit, [which] was really a leader in terms of highlighting families that had loved ones that had either been murdered or missing, and they've replaced it with a 10-day, government-controlled, RCMP program," Gazan said. "I know that [RCMP] have a budget and certainly the Harper government has made clear it's not really committed to giving resources to ending violence against women and girls."
Gazan said the campaign should be year-round, and resources should be dedicated to re-funding organizations that "have real efforts to search and provide resources for families."
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"It refers to a broader neglect of the Harper government to address violence against indigenous women and girls and a lack of funding to do so," she said.
But Metallic said the 10-day timeframe has nothing to do with resources.
"We've done this for three years. We're more than likely going to do it again next year. It has nothing to do with resources. It's really to gain the attention of the public and hopefully moving these investigations forward," she said.
Edmonton case highlighted
RCMP highlighted Maggie Lea Burke's case on Monday.
The 22-year-old woman went missing Dec. 9, 2004, from Edmonton. She has a tattoo of a happy face on her left ankle, according to Edmonton police.
Burke, who lived and worked in the area of 118th Avenue, was reported missing in December 2004, but police did not release information about her disappearance for five months.
At the time she disappeared, Burke was working in the sex trade.
Now, the KARE unit, an RCMP entity that investigates and reviews missing and murdered women's cases throughout Alberta, is assisting in the case.
"We know someone probably knows something about these cases. Either it's bad timing on coming forward, not feeling safe coming forward," Metallic said. "Things change in people's lives from day to day so, you just never know when you're going to get someone at that right moment when they feel right to come forward and provide information to police or even to the families."
Metallic said anyone who has information about a case should contact police.
Canadasmissing.ca has information about the jurisdiction responsible for each case, and RCMP are encouraging the public to look at the missing persons cases on that website.
If you do have information about a case, anonymous tips can also be submitted to CrimeStoppers or the National Centre for Missing Persons. Tips will be forwared to the appropriate detachment.
RCMP are also asking people to follow their @rcmpgrcpolice account and retweet information about unsolved cases.