Queen’s Park will commit $100 million in new funding to tackle violence against First Nations women.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province will not wait until the upcoming national inquiry into the hundreds of murdered and missing indigenous women to move forward.
“In Ontario, indigenous women are three times more likely to experience violence than other women and three times more likely to be murdered,” Wynne said Tuesday.
“This is devastating families and entire communities and it’s a problem our entire province needs to face,” she said.
“We all have a role to play in putting an end to this violence,” she said, adding the initiative builds upon the government’s It’s Never Okay program launched last year to fight sexual violence and harassment.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to holding a national inquiry into the more than 1,200 First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls murdered or missing in Canada, immediate action is needed, Wynne said.
To that end, Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s budget on Thursday will outline a three-year, six-part strategy — known as Walking Together — to help.
It consists of:
• $80 million to support children, youth and families, including hiring 220 outreach workers.
• $15.75 million to prevent human trafficking, expand counselling, and boost supports.
• $2.32 million in police and justice reforms, such as better training for officers and Crown attorneys.
• $1.15 million for public awareness of violence prevention measures and anti-racism training for civil servants.
• $500,000 for improved collaboration with First Nations and Ottawa and a national aboriginal women’s summit later this year.
• $750,000 for better data and research to track problems.
Wynne, who will be in Winnipeg on Friday for a roundtable discussion on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, said she hopes Ontario’s plan “will be dovetailed with what’s happening at the national level.”
“So I don’t see this as a stop-gap. I see this as what Ontario is going to do and it’s going to continue to do,” she said.
Sylvia Maracle, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, hailed the announcement as a significant step.
“We are truly grateful. It’s not a small feat, $100 million. It’s not. It’s the biggest hunt I’ve ever been part of. I’ve never been part of a bigger hunt and gather to bring food home for the people,” said Maracle.
“I’m grateful that we don’t have to fit the widget box,” she said of the multi-pronged approach to a complicated social issue.
“I think that schools are going to be grateful. I think that hospitals are going to be grateful. Police services are going to be grateful. I think neighbours are going to be grateful.”
Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles, who is also responsible for women’s issues at cabinet, said the new plan complements It’s Never Okay.
“Legislation to support that is before the house now, in terms of more support for victims, changes to (the) Occupational Health and Safety Act, and of course stronger policies on our university and college campuses,” said MacCharles.
“So that work is ongoing and I think dovetails with the announcement today, as well as our commitment around human trafficking.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock), who has been pushing measures to curb human trafficking, praised the province for taking action.
“Violence against women, including women from our indigenous communities, should not be tolerated in our society. Making our communities safer must be a priority for the Liberal government,” said Scott.
“The Walking Together strategy appropriately highlights the crisis of human trafficking that is happening right under our noses, in our neighbourhoods and our communities,” she said.
“I am pleased that the government will develop a survivor-centred strategy to assist in the identification, intervention and prevention of human trafficking in Ontario, especially for our indigenous women.”