Feds saw few hur­dles to over­haul child vic­tims fund

But were con­cerned about loos­en­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity: doc­u­ments

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - JOR­DAN PRESS

OT­TAWA — Fed­eral of­fi­cials ex­pressed con­cerns about pos­si­ble changes to a grant pro­gram for par­ents of miss­ing and mur­dered chil­dren that only doles out a tiny frac­tion of its mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bud­get, newly re­leased doc­u­ments show.

The July brief­ing ma­te­rial, crafted for the min­is­ter in charge of the pro­gram, shows that of­fi­cials fully ex­pected to go ahead with ef­forts to sim­plify the ap­pli­ca­tion process and ex­pand out­reach ef­forts to raise aware­ness about the five-year-old fund, com­plet­ing both by the end of 2017.

How­ever, loos­en­ing what one watch­dog de­scribed as re­stric­tive el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria car­ried “vary­ing lev­els of pro­gram risk,” So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter JeanYves Du­c­los was told. What was meant by that, along with the op­tions pre­sented to Du­c­los, are blacked out from the doc­u­ments, ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press under the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act.

The gov­ern­ment has yet to act on the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria — cen­tral to the changes ad­vo­cates had were hop­ing for af­ter a crit­i­cal re­view of the pro­gram in Au­gust by then-vic­tims om­buds­man Sue O’Sul­li­van, which found grant take-up was abysmally low and that ad­min­is­trat­ing the fund was cost­ing 14 times as much as the grants them­selves.

De­spite O’Sul­li­van’s find­ings, “essen­tially, the grant has been meet­ing its ob­jec­tives in pro­vid­ing in­come sup­port to cur­rent ap­pli­cants,” the doc­u­ments show Du­c­los was told.

Heidi Illing­worth, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Re­source Cen­tre for Vic­tims of Crime, called it dis­ap­point­ing that of­fi­cials ap­pear to have been “sat­is­fied with the sta­tus quo.”

“We know that very few par­ents have ac­cessed the fund­ing over­all com­pared to the costs to run the pro­gram,” Illing­worth said.

Fed­eral out­reach ef­forts since the brief­ing have done lit­tle to boost take-up of the grant, which con­tin­ues to spend less than one per cent of its an­nual $10-mil­lion bud­get on grants, and far more on ad­min­is­ter­ing the money.

Du­c­los spokesper­son Mathieu Fil­ion said the gov­ern­ment is still work­ing on changes with the in­put of stake­hold­ers and the vic­tims om­buds­man — a po­si­tion the Lib­er­als have yet to fill, a de­lay ad­vo­cates say has only com­pounded is­sues.

“It is tak­ing a bit more time that we in­tended, but we wanted to make that the changes we will pro­pose will have the best im­pact,” Fil­ion said. “We will make sure this pro­gram bet­ter helps and sup­ports fam­i­lies who face such tragic cir­cum­stances.”

First in­tro­duced by the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in 2013, the pro­gram has never come close to pro­vid­ing the fi­nan­cial sup­port to fam­i­lies the Tories orig­i­nally touted.

The grant was in­tended to pro­vide up to $12,250 to par­ents whose chil­dren have ei­ther been killed or gone miss­ing as a re­sult of a prob­a­ble crim­i­nal of­fence in Canada. It re­quires, how­ever, that the vic­tim be under age 18, the par­ents nei­ther work­ing nor re­ceiv­ing em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ben­e­fits, and the of­fence less than a year old. The Tories es­ti­mated an­nual fund­ing of $10 mil­lion would help 1,000 fam­i­lies each year.

Since the pro­gram came into ef­fect on Jan. 1, 2013, the gov­ern­ment has doled out $403,550 of the $53 mil­lion avail­able over that time, or about 0.8 per cent of the bud­get. That fig­ure in­cludes $86,450 spent over the last 12 months on grants, ac­cord­ing to num­bers pro­vided by Du­c­los’ of­fice.

Only a cou­ple dozen fam­i­lies have re­ceived grants over the last five years.

O’Sul­li­van, the for­mer vic­tims om­buds­man, called on the gov­ern­ment to raise the age limit for chil­dren and al­low sib­lings, grand­par­ents and ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers to be el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing to ac­com­mo­date shift­ing fam­ily struc­tures. She also rec­om­mended the gov­ern­ment make fund­ing avail­able be­yond the one-year limit to help par­ents who need time off for a trial.

Illing­worth said less re­stric­tive cri­te­ria could help fam­i­lies like those of Ariel Jef­frey Kouakou, who went miss­ing in Mon­treal one month ago. Po­lice be­lieve the 10-year-old fell into a river, which would make the fam­ily in­el­i­gi­ble for the grant.

Fam­ily mem­bers re­main con­vinced the child was a vic­tim of foul play.

ADRIAN WYLD THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A spokesper­son for So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Du­c­los says the gov­ern­ment is still work­ing on changes.

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