Manitoba

MMIW families still waiting for promised help, Bernadette Smith says

The Manitoba government needs to step up with support programs and services that were promised to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, says Bernadette Smith, whose sister has been missing for eight years.

Manitoba government says it's waiting to hear back on federal funding request

Bernadette Smith of Winnipeg wipes away tears as she talks about the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women on Dec. 8, 2015, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Manitoba government needs to step up with support programs and services that were promised to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, says Bernadette Smith, whose sister has been missing for eight years.

In unveiling details of the inquiry earlier this year, the federal government said it would allocate $11.7 million over three years for provinces and territories to establish family information liaison units within their existing victims services departments.

The units are meant to complement the work of the inquiry by supporting families seeking information about their loved ones from government institutions — including police, prosecutors, coroners and child protection services.

More than two months later, the provinces and territories are at various stages of setting up the units — some are still exploring whether they will have one, and all but Ontario are unable to provide any firm timelines.

Little has been done in Manitoba since the federal money was distributed to the province months ago, said Smith, whose sister, Claudette Osborne, was 21 years old when she disappeared in 2008.

"We've had numerous women go missing or be murdered across Canada while they figure this out," Smith said on Tuesday.

"They've had a long time to figure this out, and I think it's time for action."

Families continue to search for their loved ones without assistance, Smith said, pointing to the family of Jennifer Catcheway, who disappeared just before her 18th birthday in 2008.

"Her father's been out in Duck Bay, looking in the rivers out there for his daughter and, you know, with no help," she said.

"It's time for people to start helping and our government has a role in that, both provincial and federal."

A spokesperson for Justice Canada told The Canadian Press that funding for family information liaison units is being directed to the provinces and territories because most of the information families are seeking is held by government institutions, which existing victims services are able to access, while at the same time being regulated by privacy legislation and accountability frameworks.

The federal department is encouraging the provinces and territories to "explore options for partnering with Indigenous community or advocacy organizations," the spokesperson said.

Province waiting to hear back from feds

A Manitoba Justice spokesperson told CBC News that its victim services branch has applied for federal funding for a family information liaison unit here.

"The deadline was earlier this fall, and we are currently waiting for a response," the spokesperson said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

The province says it has had a family liaison for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba since 2011. The liaison provides information and support to all MMIWG families, including those whose loved ones' disappearances or deaths are being reviewed by Project Devote, a joint police investigative unit that is examining a number of unsolved cases.

"Partnerships with Indigenous community agencies such as Eyaa-Keen and Ka Ni Kanichihk have helped the liaison to enhance the relationship with families and provide more comprehensive supports," the spokesperson added.

With files from The Canadian Press

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