Liberals increase support for parents of murdered, missing children
Changes will boost weekly income amounts and double eligibility period
The Liberal government is overhauling a program that supports parents of children who are murdered or were abducted, boosting the weekly benefits and extending the eligibility period.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the changes during a news conference on Parliament Hill Friday. He said the revamp will make the program more generous, accessible and flexible.
"These are all significant changes that will help families go through very difficult circumstances," he said.
The benefit, brought in by the former Conservative government on Jan. 1, 2013, aims to provide support to parents who have suffered a loss of income because they took time away from work to cope with the death or disappearance of a child as the result of a crime.
It has had much lower uptake than anticipated because of rules that were considered too rigid.
Duclos said the changes will mean the program could help an estimated 320 eligible families, up from the estimated 100 under the current regime.
- Increasing the weekly benefit payment by $100, to $450.
- Raising the age limit of young victims from under 18 to under 25.
- Doubling the period in which recipients can receive the benefit to 104 weeks.
- Allowing recipients to work up to 50 per cent of their regular work week (up to 20 hours a week).
- Eliminating the requirement that parents whose child was under the age of 14 attest that their child was not a willing party to the crime.
Last month, CBC News reported that only 12 applications were submitted to the program in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and that nine of them were approved. Total payments came to $86,450 — less than one per cent of the $10 million available in the annual fund.
That was down slightly from the previous year, when the program paid out $92,050 to six families.
Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister and Toronto's former police chief, said the program will help more families coping with "unimaginable trauma."
"It's not compensation for their loss, it's help — help when they need it most," he said.
Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, whose eldest daughter was murdered in 2002, worked with the former Conservative government to create the program.
He said the Conservatives had wanted the program to be as open and accessible as possible, but departmental bureaucrats imposed additional eligibility requirements that limited access to the grants.
He called the changes announced today a "good start," but he worried that even with the expanded amounts and eligibility, people won't know the program exists or understand how to access it.
"I didn't see what will be the strategy to be in touch with the organizations and the provinces that support the families through the justice process," he said. "I didn't see a very strong strategy to ensure the program will be a success."
Boisvenu also called it "unacceptable" that families affected by crimes outside Canada will not qualify.
According to data from Statistics Canada, there were 229 murders, homicides and infanticides of people under age 18 in the five-year period from 2012 to 2016. In that same period, there were 1,918 abductions of minors, including 637 that were not related to abductions by parents or guardians, or to custody disputes.