Status of Women Canada approved few projects on aboriginal women

Opposition parties asking why agency didn't give green light to more projects focused on aboriginal women and girls

OTTAWA – The federal agency that’s supposed to promote the equality and advancement of women has only approved a handful of projects in recent years that had anything to do with aboriginals.

Now opposition parties are asking why Status of Women Canada didn’t give the green light to more projects focused on aboriginal women and girls, who disproportionately fall victim to violence and poverty in this country.

The federal agency recently provided statistics in response to a question from New Democrat MP Niki Ashton showing 31 of 210 projects approved since the fall of 2011 — 14.8 per cent — were focused on aboriginal women and girls.

That included projects by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups.

The agency provided two sets of figures. One shows the number of proposals received by Status of Women Canada; the other shows the number that were ultimately approved.

Status of Women Canada didn’t offer any details about the nature of the projects. But the figures show clearly that the agency approved relatively few projects focused exclusively on aboriginal women and girls.

That can perhaps be explained, in part, by looking at the total number of proposals that the agency received.

Take, for instance, the proposal for projects aimed at “Engaging young people to prevent violence against women on post-secondary campuses.” Only one of the 53 proposals focused on aboriginals. The agency ultimately approved 22 projects and the one aboriginal-focused pitch didn’t make the cut.

But that explanation doesn’t seem to apply to the rest of the projects, which all received a substantial number of pitches focused on aboriginals.

Sixty-six of the 308 proposals for projects aimed at “engaging communities to end violence against women and girls” focused on aboriginals. Yet only three of those 66 aboriginal projects got approved.

Department officials assessed the merits of each of the funding requests, said Andrew McGrath, a spokesman for Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.

“Each call for proposals has specific criteria that organizations must meet in order to be approved for funding,” McGrath wrote in an email.

“In circumstances where funding proposals aren’t approved, Status of Women officials offer to work with organizations on how they can improve their submissions for future calls.

“Status of Women Canada has a rigorous assessment process to ensure that approved projects a) are in line with achieving the goals and objectives of each call for proposals; b) have the greatest impact possible; and c) ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are being spent in an effective manner.”

Opposition MPs say the lack of projects focused on aboriginal women and girls speaks volumes.

“It’s a true reflection of how little commitment this government has — if any — to indigenous women,” Ashton said in an interview.

The Conservative government has often said the reason it refuses to hold a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls is because it’s time to take action, not study the issue further.

Calls for an inquiry have been growing louder since RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson revealed that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years — hundreds more than previously thought.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said the project figures show the government isn’t taking the issue seriously.

“The government’s refusal to back up its rhetoric about this urgent crisis with actual resources and concrete action is unconscionable,” she said in a statement.

The latest Conservative budget included a five-year, $25-million renewal of money aimed at stopping violence against aboriginal women and girls.

The government is also spending additional money on shelters and activities to prevent family violence, a DNA-based missing persons database and continuing support for police investigations through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and special RCMP project teams.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.