NDP Leader Tom Mulcair unveiled measures Monday to curb violence against aboriginal women, pledging millions in funding for shelters as he promised to undo an "underlying attitude of racism" that he says has prevented a national inquiry into the issue.
Speaking to supporters in Saskatoon, Mulcair said an NDP government would provide the federal Shelter Enhancement Program — an initiative that provides money for building and maintaining shelters for victims of family violence — with $40 million in new funding over four years.
The NDP estimates that the money could create or update more than 2,100 spaces in shelters and 350 spaces in transition homes for women and children fleeing violence.
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But Mulcair's announcement wasn't without controversy.
Mulcair said during his speech that the program had been cancelled by the Conservative government. But the Conservatives were quick to counter that the government continues to fund shelters that are on reserves, and has pledged $92.5 million over five years for on-reserve shelters through the Family Violence Prevention Program.
The NDP clarified after the event that the $40 million in new funding would be used to increase funding going toward shelters on reserves and to restore funding for off-reserve shelters. However, the Conservatives responded again, saying funding for off-reserve shelters continues to go to the provinces under affordable housing agreements.
A spokesman for Canada Mortgage and House Corporation, which administers the federal funds, said in an email to CBC News that federal funding for accommodations for victims of family violence previously delivered through the Shelter Enhancement Program has been delivered through bilateral agreements with the provinces since 2011.
The spokesman did not clarify whether the money goes toward new shelters or to maintenance of existing shelters.
It's no coincidence that Mulcair made the announcement in Saskatchewan, a province with a rate of violence against women that's four times the national average. He told the audience he would work to repair the federal government's relationship with indigenous women.
"Now I say this to every mother, to every daughter, to every sister, that it's time you had a prime minister who cares," Mulcair said.
Mulcair also vowed to invest money in affordable housing and homelessness programs to help women fleeing violence to find a new place to live and to work with women's group and indigenous organizations to develop a national plan to end violence against women and girls with "dedicated funding and benchmarks."
The NDP leader went on to reiterate his previous commitment to call an inquiry into the 1,200 indigenous women who have been killed or have disappeared since the 1980s within 100 days of forming a government.
A report in January from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, says aboriginal women in Canada are murdered or disappear at a rate four times higher than their representation in the population.
"If there still hasn't been an inquiry today, to this date, on murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, it's because of an underlying attitude of racism," Mulcair later added.
"We're going to change that attitude."
Harper defends record
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has resisted pressure to call an inquiry, saying instead his government is focused on concrete action rather than further studies.
Part of that action was the 2010 launch of an RCMP database of missing persons and unidentified remains intended to help police services across the country investigate unsolved disappearances and suspected homicides.
CBC News, however, obtained an internal government document that revealed the database is years behind schedule and will cost at least twice as much as the original proposal.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Ottawa Monday morning, Harper denied charges that he has not done enough to end violence against women, saying that his government is "taking a whole range of actions across the spectrum."
"We've put additional money into prevention services and protection services, particularly for women living on reserves," he said.
"We also brought in a series of criminal justice reforms to make sure there are serious penalties for those who commit violence against women."