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Letter to Minister David Lametti related to Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs)

December 5, 2019

The Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6


Re: Family Information Liaison Units


Dear Minister Lametti,


As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my role is to recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to victims’ needs.


I am writing to you regarding a program funded by Justice Canada’s Victims Fund: Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs). I understand that the additional funding for this service will only be available until March 31st, 2020. I recommend that Justice Canada permanently fund these Units, as they help Indigenous families to access available information about their missing and murdered loved ones from multiple government sources. The Units are a best practice in my opinion, as they are available in every province and territory and build on the existing victim services frameworks in each region.


The FILUs address a critical need for culturally sensitive victim support. In Canada, the rate of self-reported sexual assault of Indigenous people is almost triple that of non-Indigenous people, according to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization. The rate of sexual assault self-reported by Indigenous women was more than triple that of non-Indigenous women. Violence against Indigenous women and girls is not only more frequent but also more severe. Between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly seven times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous women. Tragically, since 2000, the numbers have continued to rise.


I support funding the FILUs permanently because they provide a critical infrastructure to gather and share up-to-date information, including police investigations, coroners' reports and inquests, and court proceedings. This service ensures the varied informational needs of family members are addressed in a coordinated, compassionate, culturally safe, and trauma-informed manner. These Units also ensure that families have knowledge of the existing networks and programs to assist and support them in finding healing and wellness, including referrals to victim services, cultural supports and grief and trauma counselling. The FILUs inform all families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls the criminal justice system, police procedures, child and family services, and health and social services.


FILUs provide a “one-stop information service” for all families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Since the National Inquiry, the Units have also provided long-term supports to families seeking information and help. They can address outstanding questions families have about the loss of their loved ones.


In my travels across Canada, I have heard from many FILU staff and Indigenous survivors about how important this resource is, as it helps families to navigate the complex justice system and to access valuable information and treatment. For example, in the Northwest Territories, I heard that FILUs have had a big impact on the community, as they have been able to locate files for families that were not accessible previously. Some families chose the FILU worker to accompany them for support to testify at the National Inquiry. This is a testament to the connection and rapport workers have developed with families.


I believe the federal government has obligations to Indigenous peoples across the country, especially with regard to ensuring that victims and survivors of violence have culturally appropriate resources available to them in order to help them heal from their loss and victimization. It is important to recognize that Indigenous victims’ rights are indeed human rights. Permanent funding of the FILUs will ensure that Indigenous families can access justice in the aftermath of violent victimization.  


If I can provide additional information to encourage this consideration, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to your response and to continuing to work with you to bring about positive change for victims and survivors of crime in Canada.


Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime