Breadcrumb trail

Letter to Minister Miller concerning Indigenous women’s shelters in communities not covered by an agreement


September 16, 2020

The Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Miller,

I hope you and your family are staying healthy during the pandemic. I have written to you previously about the need for the federal government to work with Indigenous leaders to develop Indigenous women’s shelters in communities not covered by an agreement. As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime1, I believe there is also a need for the federal government to fund urban Indigenous family violence shelters.

Members of my Office’s Indigenous Advisory Circle have raised concerns with me regarding a lack of Indigenous family violence shelters in urban centres, and that such shelters should be operated by Indigenous staff in a manner that provides not only a necessary safe space, but also a space that is inclusive of Indigenous protocols and supports. For example, while there are three shelters at the disposal of Indigenous women in Edmonton, they are overseen by non-Indigenous people with minimal understanding of Indigenous people or Indigenous history. Toronto, one of Canada’s largest cities, does not have a single shelter for Indigenous women.

An earlier announcement in May dedicated $44.8 million to building twelve new shelters over five years in First Nations on-reserve communities, and two in the territories, to help protect and support Indigenous women and girls experiencing and fleeing violence. This summer, you announced an additional $305 million to support community initiatives that prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities – on reserve and off reserve. To date this year, the government has committed $380 million to help Indigenous communities deal with the COVID-19 pandemic - with only $15 million of this money directed to organizations providing services to those living off reserve or in urban centres.

The latest census data from Statistics Canada reports that 44.2% of treaty or status First Nations live on reserve, meaning over half of Indigenous people in Canada are living in urban centres. Recent data has also demonstrated that Indigenous people living in urban centres face increased vulnerabilities to the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19. Approximately 25% of Indigenous people living in urban centres live in poverty, compared with 13% of the non-Indigenous population. Forty-four percent of Indigenous women reported that they could not cover unexpected expenses at this time, compared to 33% of Indigenous men. Among Indigenous people aged 18 and older living in urban centres, 38% lived in a food insecure household, with women more likely to experience food insecurity. These factors not only render Indigenous women vulnerable to COVID-19 and its impacts, but to victimization and abuse.

Despite these realities, more than half (59%) of existing shelters for Indigenous victims of abuse are located in rural areas according to Statistics Canada. It is therefore concerning to see that while a significant proportion of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are living in urban centers, a majority of these funds and initiatives are being directed to the on-reserve populace. This perpetuates a significant existing gap in culturally relevant services and supports available for the urban Indigenous population.

I therefore recommend that sufficient sustaining funds be directed to providing Indigenous women and children with shelters and culturally appropriate supports in urban centres. Renewing the Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples (UPIP) past its sun setting date of March 2022 provides a ready opportunity to do this. The UPIP is a best practice that has supported the work of key organizations, like the Friendship Centers, for many years. Without funding, the Friendship Centres will close, and so sustainable funding will support the meaningful and culturally appropriate work UPIP provides its clients.

Addressing the lack of Indigenous family violence shelters in urban centres also provides an important opportunity to support the advancement of reconciliation by addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice 4.1, 16.19, and 17.20.2

I look forward to your response and to working with you to ensure positive change for victims and survivors of crime in Canada.


Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime


Cc  The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

1. An important part of my mandate is to recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to victims’ needs.

2. 4.1 We call upon all governments to support the establishment and long-term sustainable funding of Indigenous-led low-barrier shelters, safe spaces, transition homes, second-stage housing, and services for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people who are homeless, near homeless, dealing with food insecurity, or in poverty, and who are fleeing violence or have been subjected to sexualized violence and exploitation. All governments must ensure that shelters, transitional housing, second-stage housing, and services are appropriate to cultural needs, and available wherever Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people reside.
16.19 We call upon all governments to develop and fund safe houses, shelters, transition houses, and second-stage housing for Inuit women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people fleeing violence. These houses and shelters are required in all Inuit communities and in urban centres with large Inuit populations. Shelters must not require full occupancy to remain open and to receive funding. Further, they must be independent from child and family services agencies, as women may not seek shelter due to fear of agency involvement. This action includes the establishment and funding of shelters and safe spaces for families, children, and youth, including Inuit who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA, who are facing socio-economic crises in all Inuit communities and in urban centres with large Inuit populations.
We call upon all governments to fund and support programs for Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, including more access to traditional healing programs, treatment centres for youth, family support and violence prevention funding and initiatives for Métis, and the creation of no-barrier safe spaces, including spaces for Métis mothers and families in need.