WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion declaring the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people a national emergency.
The motion was tabled by Leah Gazan, NDP critic for women and gender equity, and arrived just before Red Dress Day on May 5.
The adopted motion included a call to provide immediate and substantial investment in a red dress alert system to help notify the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person goes missing.
At a press conference on the morning of the motion, Gazan was flanked by several grassroots First Nation, Métis and Inuit advocates and activists. She emphasized during the press conference that structures are in place to create the alert system immediately.
Gazan has met with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to discuss a path forward, she told Canada’s National Observer. But her patience is running out.
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“They just need to come to the table and then act,” Gazan said. “I’m done with meeting for the sake of meeting.”
It’s beyond “feel-good stuff” — action needs to happen, she added.
Currently, the government has earmarked $2.5 million over five years to implement the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited National Action Plan, but Gazan says action needs to happen now, pointing to the recent discovery of the remains of an eight-year-old girl from Samson Cree Nation and the death of a woman from Sandy Bay First Nation over the weekend.
But this year’s federal budget notably clawed back $150 million of funding for women’s shelters, a move that “really, really worries” Carol McBride, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
“I hope this resolution means that [the federal government] will be looking at that funding that they’re planning on clawing back.”
In question period, the Liberals pointed to the end of the pandemic as a reason to cut the shelter funds, Gazan said.
“The pandemic is over, but not the violence pandemic… The violence pandemic continues,” Gazan said.
At the press conference, Ellen Gabriel, an activist and filmmaker from Kanehsatà:ke, directly blamed politicians and bureaucrats for inaction.
“It becomes a matter of economics. It goes to the Treasury Board, rather than looking at educating you leaders, your politicians, about what human rights actually means,” Gabriel said.
“Every single one of us knows what it is to breathe, everyone knows what it means to lose a loved one. Why can’t politicians and bureaucrats understand that Indigenous Peoples are human beings as well?”
Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative