Canada, Manitoba to develop Red Dress Alert for missing Indigenous women and girls

Red Dress Alert system

Canada and Manitoba are partnering to launch an alert system that would inform the public when an Indigenous woman or girl goes missing, they announced Friday in Winnipeg, ahead of a national day to mark the crisis.

The long-awaited Red Dress Alert system is a bid to prevent deaths and increase safe reunions with loved ones.

NDP MP Leah Gazan, whose efforts on the file led a House of Commons committee to study the prospect of a national alert system, called the announcement a small but significant step.

“Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQIA+ peoples are roughly six times more likely to be murdered than their non-Indigenous counterparts throughout Canada,” said Leah Gazan, NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre. “And in Manitoba, they are nineteen times more likely to be murdered or missing.”

Gazan’s fellow MPs unanimously backed her motion in the House of Commons last year declaring the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls a Canada-wide emergency.

The federal government is putting $1.3 million towards the project over three years.

Manitoba Families Minister, Nahanni Fontaine, said the province is “ground zero” for the crisis. She said the two levels of government will implement the alert system with community groups, including Bear Clan Patrols.

“Today’s announcement is so important because yes we’re ground zero, but also we have been taking a lead across the country in respect of solutions and the work that needs to be done collectively,” Fontaine said.

While the program is only being piloted in Manitoba, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree said there’s potential to make it nationwide.

“We believe that this can be the driver for us to be able to scale. Now, I cannot give you a timeline on this because a lot of it will come down to the work that’s done by partners but I can assure you that we will move forward as a federal government,” said Anandasangaree.

Statistics Canada concluded in a report last year that the homicide rate for Indigenous women and girls was six times higher than the rate for their non-Indigenous counterparts.

A national inquiry concluded five years ago that they are 12 times more likely to go missing or murdered.

“In the lead-up to Red Dress Day, we keep those who have been stolen from their communities and this world in our thoughts, and we centre them in our action,” said Anandasangaree.

“Today, as we announce this partnership to co-develop a Red Dress Alert system with Indigenous partners, we take the next steps toward bringing more Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people home.”

“We look forward to working inclusively with Indigenous partners in Manitoba to find the best path forward as we build this pilot project,” said Fontaine.

The motion also called on the federal government to fund a new alert system similar to Amber Alerts.

Other North American jurisdictions already have similar alert systems, including Washington state’s Missing Indigenous Person system.

The national inquiry’s 2019 final report found deliberate rights violations were at the heart of violence against Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

With the final report came 231 calls to justice directed toward governments, social service providers, industry and Canadians, but relatively little progress has been made to date.

With files from the Canadian Press

Editor’s Note: A correction to the amount of money the federal government was putting towards the red dress project was made on June 3, 2024. 

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