Manitoba Justice refuses to help with funeral for slain aboriginal woman
'They just stomped on us. That's how I feel. They just stomped on her'
A grieving mother in British Columbia is struggling to understand why the Province of Manitoba has refused to help pay for her slain daughter's funeral.
Janett Poorman's daughter Angela, 29, was stabbed to death on Dec. 14, 2014. Hers is one of 230 "missing and murdered" indigenous women's cases CBC found that remain unsolved.
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"They just stomped on us," said Poorman from her Burnaby, B.C., home. "That's how I feel. They just stomped on her."
Less than a month after her daughter's death, Poorman found she is on the hook for the $4,500 funeral bill.
How is it her victimization — in this case homicide — is outweighed by the minor offences that exist on her criminal record?- Christa Big Canoe
Poorman submitted an application for the funeral costs under Manitoba's compensation for victims of crime program.
That application was rejected, and the victims services employee dissuaded the family from filing an appeal, saying there was no point in trying.
Under the province's Victims' Bill of Rights, family members who have to pay the victim's funeral costs are eligible for up to $5,400. The amount may be reduced if the victim was convicted of an offence in the past five years.
Victim's offences a sign of poverty
In Angela's case, she had 10 convictions, the majority of which were breaching her conditions of release. Her original convictions were one count of driving while impaired and one count of identity theft for which she was fined and put on probation.
"The types of offences on her criminal record are those of someone who was experiencing poverty and are not uncommon to people who have a lower socio-ecomonic status in society," said Christa Big Canoe, legal advocacy director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.
"How is it her victimization — in this case homicide — is outweighed by the minor offences that exist on her criminal record?"
Big Canoe points out the province had a choice when it denied Poorman's application. The Victims' Bill of Rights says "the director may … deny or reduce the amount of compensation payable."
That means there is wiggle room, Big Canoe says, because "when the word 'may' is used, it means there is discretion, so this is a policy choice or a directive."
The Victims' Bill of Rights was changed in 2011 to allow for the exclusion of people with recent minor criminal convictions. At the time, the intent was to quell criticism that criminals were getting benefits as a result of injuries sustained in the commission of crimes.
"The intent of the law is that there is no discretion for the victims' services office, but there is the appeals process and the director can then take another look at it," said Rachel Morgan, a government spokesperson.
Aboriginal people shut out
Manitoba's victim compensation laws end up excluding a large number of aboriginal people by virtue of their over-representation in the criminal justice system, Big Canoe said.
In the past five years of available data, the amount paid out per year in victim compensation has gone from a high of $3.9 million in 2009-10 to $3.3 million in 2013-14.
"There is a consideration tax dollars should not be spent on criminals and there is no space or means for compassionate grounds or exceptions," she added. "Those are the things that should be built in that are lacking."
Poorman can't understand why the province would deny her burial costs after she has been through so much.
"I just don't understand their laws," she said. "I just don't know how they can treat people like this."
The province issued a statement which said Poorman may be entitled to compensation from its Employment and Income Assistance department for the funeral expenses and that EIA staff have been trying to contact her in order to provide payment.
Poorman says her numerous phone calls to EIA haven't been returned since February.
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