By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA-Some Conservative MPs on Thursday called for the return of federal dollars to the much-vaunted Sisters in Spirit database of murdered and missing Aboriginal women which remains in limbo after the Conservative government cut its funding.
After listening to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) tell the Commons status of women committee that the database now was dormant, the Conservative MPs said federal funding should be found to keep it going.
The database, which has nearly 600 cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, was one of the jewels of NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit initiative which thrust the violence experience by Aboriginal women in Canada into the national and international spotlight.
“Personally I think it should be kept going,” said Surrey North Conservative MP Dona Cadman, in an interview with APTN National News.
“You put that much money and time and effort into something like that it is a crime to just let it fall apart and do nothing with it.”
Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley Conservative MP Scott Armstrong said NWAC should find a way to get funding from other departments.
“I do believe there is some attributes to that database that should be supported,” said Armstrong, in an interview.
“I am certainly in favour of the database, the database should be there,” said Fleetwood-Port Kells Conservative MP Nina Grewal.
NWAC president Jeannette Corbiere Lavell told the committee that some women were volunteering to continue to keep Sisters in Spirit alive, but they had been unable to update the database.
Corbiere Lavell said her organization was aware of 20 new cases of murders and 10 cases of missing Aboriginal women they had not been able to input. She also said there were a number of historical, unsolved cases from B.C. that the organization wanted to investigate, but couldn’t.
Sisters in Spirit, which was created by the pervious Liberal government and given $5 million over five years, raised the profile of the violence faced by Aboriginal women in Canada by documenting and detailing cases of murdered and missing women.
The database has also attracted the attention of police forces like the Ontario Provincial Police who sought to use of the information in their investigations. Corbier Lavell said the OPP had document only two Aboriginal murdered and missing women cases when the Sisters in Spirit database had recorded 70.
The Conservative cabinet, however, decided not to renew funding and NWAC was forced to apply for money under a Status of Women Canada program that forbade the use of government dollars for research and advocacy work.
Status of Women officials also informed NWAC it could not use the name Sisters in Spirit for any projects receiving additional government funding.
The Conservatives then announced they would be putting $10 million toward the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, but $4 million of the total would go to the RCMP to set up the national missing person’s branch which has no specific Aboriginal component.
The RCMP is currently in discussions with NWAC to use some of the information in the database, according to Corbier Lavell.
The rest of the money was set aside for community-based programs and victim’s services.
The government, however, is expected to give NWAC about $1.8 million over the next three years for their “Evidence to Action” program to deal with violence against Aboriginal women.