Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly pleased to be speaking to this issue, but it is an honour to speak to it because I know many of the families who have lost these young girls, and my heart absolutely breaks for them. I just hope that all members of Parliament will continue this fight toward justice for these families. I know our government is committed to it, and I will be voting to support the motion to have a special committee in the House look at it.
However, when it comes right down to brass tacks, what is required is to find these girls. We need to find the perpetrators of these crimes, and our best shot at that is to empower police officers, investigators and analysts to do the work they do so well.
If members would allow, I will speak a bit about those officers and the work they are doing. Some of them are working today on these very cases. They take this work home with them. Their hearts are in this work. They want to find solutions for these families, and some of them have a very tough time dealing with the graphic images and stories. They do it because they love what they do, and they have dedicated their lives to serving their communities and these families in an attempt to get justice.
Having said that, I will talk about the task forces that presently exist across this country, something we have not heard much about. I commend the officers and civilian analysts who are involved. I will talk about Project Devote in Manitoba, which is of course where I spent eighteen and a half years policing. The Manitoba Integrated Task Force for Missing and Murdered Women is what I am talking about. It is located in the RCMP D Division headquarters, and Project Devote consists of RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service officers and RCMP civilian analysts, who have brought together a team of approximately 24 individuals who have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for these types of investigations. The focus of Project Devote is investigative, based on the review and recommendations made by the task force. In addition to these investigations, a proactive team was established to further enhance the ongoing efforts of dealing with exploited and at-risk persons.
We have heard some quotes from commissioners. Assistant Commissioner Bill Robinson, for example, from the RCMP, made a tremendous plea to ensure our officers have the tools. He said:
The team's efforts will focus on the investigation and prosecution of the person or persons responsible for these crimes. We are fully committed to providing answers to families and loved ones.
The Winnipeg police chief at the time, Keith McCaskill, said:
Members of the Task Force have worked diligently in reviewing files and their efforts are to be applauded.
I do not want members of this House to forget that, although we are talking about what we as parliamentarians can do, the hard work is being done right now by police officers across this country and civilians in the RCMP, who will continue this fight. I applaud their efforts. I commend them and I wish them all of the success in the world.
When I was policing, I was involved in some of these cases, and I think today about Felicia Solomon's case and a media release I had to put out about finding her body parts. I think about Sunshine Wood today, a young girl who went missing under our watch, and yet we have found no answers. I think about Nicolle Hands who was a single mother, and when I did that media release I thought, long and hard, about her children.
So I want Canadians to know that this government is very much committed to finding answers for those families, and I would implore Canadians who are watching today to please review the media releases and the articles that are out on the web. If anyone has any information that would lead to the successful resolution of these families' disappeared or murdered loved ones, they could contact the police tip line. In Manitoba specifically, it is 1-888-673-3316. Again, there are projects like this across the country, in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, and they all have these task forces. I did not want to make this speech today without acknowledging all the hard work they do.
My colleagues from the NDP have repeatedly said today that no one trusts the police. I disagree with that wholeheartedly. I think that is disrespectful and they ought to be ashamed of themselves because 99% of police officers do a very good job. Not only do they do a very good job but they take their jobs to heart. They dismiss them in that way for political reasons, and I just do not think we are here for that. Let us talk about what the government is doing and has done and how we can work together to resolve this.
It is a serious issue, and the government has worked hard to make sure our streets are safer. That is why when this issue first arose, $5 million was provided to Sisters in Spirit, through the Native Women's Association of Canada, for its original research that showed the disturbingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada. That is when the government committed $25 million in 2010 to take some immediate action.
Before this commitment, the government had already been engaged in a series of specific initiatives to address the broader underlying causes that contribute to the greater vulnerability to violence of aboriginal women and girls in areas such as family violence prevention, economic security and prosperity, on-reserve housing, education, health and policing. As the reasons for the higher levels of vulnerability and violence are long standing, varied and interrelated, so must be the initiatives designed to address these very important issues.
The October 2010 announcement of $25 million over five years was for a seven-step strategy to improve the law enforcement and justice system responses to this criminal justice priority. All Canadians deserve to be safe in their communities and homes. The seven-step strategy complemented other major initiatives by the government to improve community safety for aboriginal women and girls, including through prevention efforts and significant investments in improving the socio-economic conditions of aboriginal people.
Two of the October 2010 initiatives fall within the mandate of Public Safety Canada. A new National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains has been set up and will ultimately support and improve the investigation of missing persons cases across Canada. People listening should go to that website. I would encourage them to do what they can to review what is on that website. If anyone has information, I encourage them to contact their local authorities.
The centre's work will apply to all Canadian missing persons cases, but it includes a post for a dedicated, experienced aboriginal police officer from the National Aboriginal Policing Services to ensure a continuing focus on the specific issue of missing aboriginal women and girls. I hope the NDP member is not suggesting that aboriginal police officer is also not to be trusted, because I can assure everyone this aboriginal officer is working very diligently in his capacity on this issue.
The second initiative is supporting the development of community safety plans by aboriginal communities to reduce violence and improve the safety of aboriginal women within their communities.
Justice Canada is responsible for the remaining initiatives. A substantial amount of funding was provided directly to community organizations as part of their efforts to reduce violence and improve safety for aboriginal women and girls. Approximately $2 million, in fact, has gone directly to about 30 organizations for activities aimed at reducing violence against aboriginal women. For example, Justice Canada provided approximately $232,000 in funding to the Girls Action Foundation to support an aboriginal young women's leadership project aimed at increasing the confidence, skills and knowledge of young aboriginal women nationally so they are better equipped to implement community action plans that address violence and victimization.
Funding was also provided to the Canadian Red Cross to revise its highly regarded abuse prevention program directed specifically at aboriginal communities in Canada, which was entitled Walking the Prevention Circle, to adapt it into an online course and translate it into French. That program was developed by the Canadian Red Cross, as I said, over many years to raise awareness about the importance of breaking intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse. This tool is an important one in facilitating lasting change in aboriginal communities and has been used in a large number of aboriginal communities all across Canada.
Justice Canada also worked with the Aboriginal Research Institute and some 12 individual contractors across Canada to gather together best practices in the areas of violence reduction, aboriginal community development, victim services and law enforcement. The online national compendium produced from this work is designed to help aboriginal communities and groups improve the safety of aboriginal women within their own communities by building on what others have tried and found helpful.
The 2010 initiatives also included an additional $1 million annually to the victims fund, to help the provinces and territories adapt or develop culturally appropriate victim services for aboriginal victims of crime and enhance support for families of missing or murdered aboriginal women.
Victim services across the country have received funding to deliver culturally appropriate services to aboriginal victims of crime, and in particular aboriginal women who have experienced violence. Several of these provinces are developing and delivering specific services to support family members of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection Inc. is working in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations and the RCMP to raise awareness about programs available for first nations and aboriginal families in their search for missing children. MissingKids.ca, which is the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's missing children resource and response centre, is a central place for critical tools for parents and communities, as well as resources to prevent children from going missing. More projects are in development.
As I said, these new initiatives are in addition to existing programs, such as the National Crime Prevention Centre, the aboriginal justice strategy and programs funded by Status of Women Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Again, let us not forget all I said about those hard-working police officers who are working on these projects to address these cases.
This government has acknowledged the seriousness of this issue and moved to action. All members would agree that we can continue to do more, and we welcome the contribution of a special committee of the House on what else should be done to end the violence and prevent future generations of aboriginal women and girls from experiencing this violence. No woman or child in Canada should have to face violence.
We encourage all parties, all governments and all Canadians to work toward a violence-free Canada. If I might finish on this, when I asked the Liberal member about what had been done during the 13 years of Liberal government reign here in this House, I was very disturbed to hear that member say it all depends on how many questions are asked; that is when they act.
It is not about questions being asked, it is about finding these girls. It is about helping these families. It is about doing our duty as Canadians to make sure that happens. The best way to do that is to make sure the police have the tools they need, make sure these communities have the tools they need to prevent further disappearances, and make sure we work together and leave aside all the political rhetoric. Right now it does not matter.
What matters are these victims and these victims' families.