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Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan says community advocates have been waiting years to see the construction of an Indigenous-led 24-hour shelter in her constituency.

It's not for lack of funding: the federal government has made a $742-million pledge to support projects preventing violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people. Of that, $420 million was allocated for the development of about 40 shelters and 50 transitional homes.

But almost all of the money is sitting unspent five months after Gazan — the NDP’s critic for women and gender equality — made a formal request to the federal government asking how much of the funding had been used. The government response revealed only $12.6 million had so far gone toward violence prevention activities, less than two per cent of the fund's total.

Since then, not much has changed.

“We have to beg for our right to live, our right to safety,” Gazan told Canada’s National Observer in an interview. “I do hope we will hear good news shortly, but we shouldn’t have to beg for safety.”

Jennifer Cooper, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, confirmed to Canada’s National Observer that spending remains at $12.6 million, adding no funding has been distributed to operational shelters.

However, 12 projects were selected to receive funding for construction and ongoing operational support once the first review phase ended in May. More project will be selected for funding at the end of 2021

The funding is overseen by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which has two separate rounds for projects. The first round ended on May 31, and the second round is set to conclude on Nov. 30. Funds will only be dispersed when both rounds conclude. Three of the 12 projects set to receive funding are in Manitoba, but it is unclear whether one of those will be a 24/7 Indigenous women’s shelter in Winnipeg.

"Funding will flow over 5 years starting in 2021-22," CMHC said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada confirmed to Canada’s National Observer that spending remains at $12.6 million, adding no funding has been distributed to operational shelters. But 12 shelters are set to be developed in the coming years.

"Applications for Inuit-specific shelter and transitional housing projects will be reviewed by an Inuit-led selection committee. An update on selected projects for Inuit shelters will be provided at a later date," the statement added.

Still, Gazan is not happy with how fast funding is getting out the door.

“It’s a failure, it’s a national failure. This is something the current minister of Crown-Indigenous relations openly acknowledges,” Gazan said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is a human rights issue.”

There’s chronic underfunding of women and gender equality by the government, Gazan said.

“We need a government that says it’s a feminist government to act like a feminist and provide the support that is needed for gender equality,” she added.

The federal government has been heavily criticized by advocacy groups like the National Family and Survivors Circle and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) for its lack of action following the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. For 2021, NWAC gave the federal government a failing grade for its response to the crisis.

“This is something that Canadians deserve an answer for,” Blake Desjarlais, NDP MP for Edmonton Griesbach, said in an interview.

“We’re still in this emergency: women, girls and two-spirited folks continue to go missing,” Desjarlais said. “It highlights, I think, that the government doesn’t care even the smallest amount to even spend the money they committed.”

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
October 17, 2022, 02:59 pm

A previous version of this article stated each project underwent two review processes. Instead, there are two separate review processes for two rounds of projects. Canada's National Observer regrets this error.

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I keep thinking that without Greyhound buses things are just going to get worse. The government should create a federal bus service to replace Greyhound, so there will be safe transportation available for rural people who aren't so well off . . . particularly First Nations, but everyone really.

Mr Polson's plea for an affordable "escape" method certainly falls within the bailiwick of "safety" measures?

Of course we all know that government's pledges to fund things aren't worth the paper they are announced on. The only paper you can trust is the Government cheque and be sure to look at it with magnification to find the hidden caveats.

Actually spending government money is only done when there is some political advantage to be gained. Indigenous people are such a small voting block it takes something explosive to make governments loosen their miserly grip on the money bags.

Really, holding on to taxpayers involuntary contributions to political party machinations, is how these politicians try to maintain their slush funds to strengthen their grip on power.

Delaying much needed indigenous safe houses is just another of the slow motion genocidal actions white Canada has pursued for generations.

As to why Indigenous led safe houses are essential it's because, universally, Indigenous people do not trust (for good reasons) anything embedded in Canadian politics and bureaucracy,

That well earned lack of trust is why Indigenous people insist on their sovereignty. Someday, under more enlightened governance, they may finally be able to enjoy their legal rights. Until that happens - the rule of law, so boasted about on the American continent, will just be an empty slogan.