Breadcrumb trail

Letter to Minister Marc Miller related to the development of Indigenous women’s shelters in communities not covered by an agreement

December 5, 2019

The Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services
10 rue Wellington 
Gatineau QC K1A 0H4

Dear Minister Miller,

Let me begin by offering you warm congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Indigenous Services Canada. I look forward to meeting with you in the near future to discuss how we can work together to better meet the needs of victims of crime.

An important part of my mandate as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime is to identify systemic issues that negatively affect victims and survivors of crime, and recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to their needs. I am writing to you with respect to the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress, particularly to draw your attention to Call for Action No. 89, Initiate tripartite negotiations with the federal government and Indigenous authorities to develop Indigenous women’s shelters in communities not covered by an agreement.

I believe that the federal government has obligations towards Indigenous peoples across the country, especially with regard to ensuring that women and children experiencing violence have access to safe refuge. Below, I will outline my recommendations to ensure that we effectively address the important call for action outlined in this Public Inquiry.

Since my appointment in October 2018, I have listened to concerns from victim support workers and victims themselves, and I have taken the time to meet with many members of Indigenous communities. During my visit to Kahnawake this summer, I spoke with a community member who testified at this Public Inquiry. She expressed that 74% of Indigenous communities in Quebec do not have women’s shelters. In addition, more than eight in ten Inuit women lack access to housing resources. To my knowledge, there are more than 900,000 First Nations people living in 634 First Nation communities and in cities and towns across the country, but there are only 39 federally funded First Nation shelters in Canada. In addition, more than 70% of Inuit communities across the Canadian Arctic do not have a safe Violence Against Women (VAW) shelter. This is unacceptable, as women and children should not have to choose between leaving their home community in order to access safe shelter, and remaining in unsafe living conditions.

Victims, victim-serving agencies and other experts have been clear that there is a VAW shelter shortage in Canada, and the evidence is undeniable. VAW shelters are at capacity or overcapacity. On a single day in 2018, nearly half (47%) of VAW shelters that participated in a national survey were full, with no available beds. Three-quarters (75%) of women and children who needed services could not be accommodated that day due to a lack of capacity and resources. The results were consistent with previous years’ surveys.

Access to safe shelter is a basic human right, as shelters provide a high security environment and essential aspects of protection for women and children. When victims suffer physical or emotional violence, shelters provide basic emergency and crisis services, which includes safe accommodation, meals, information and referrals.

There is a clear need for many more Indigenous women’s shelters that address spiritual needs, and offer holistic healing options, cultural supports and traditional medicines. Indigenous women’s welfare is tied to the well-being of their children, their personal relationships, their family and their community. Shelters provide services and resources that enable women who have experienced abuse or lateral violence due to the impacts of colonization to recover, to rebuild self-esteem, and to take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life.  Community-based shelters also provide family and community healing processes that include the men, whose inclusion can be important to recovery and rehabilitation.  

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victim of Crime (OFOVC) also recognizes that there are unique barriers in rural and remote communities. On a recent visit to Yellowknife, I heard once again that needs are particularly dire across the North, with many communities in the Northwest Territories lacking support services or workers at all.  In Nunavut, where police reported rates of violence against women, including family violence, are the highest in the country, there is only a handful of VAW shelters with a small number of beds despite large numbers of victims in need. There is a need for services that are intersectional (taking into account identity factors such as gender, age, disability and sexual orientation) and responsive to people’s circumstances and needs.

I recommend the following to ensure the needs of Indigenous victims of family violence are met:

  1. Indigenous Services Canada immediately provide funds to construct and operate Indigenous women’s shelters in or near all First Nations communities where none currently exist. This funding should respect the right of the Indigenous authorities and the local VAW services to develop a shelter suited to their community.

  2. Indigenous Services Canada make long-term operational funding for front-line community organizations, shelters and transition houses working to protect victims and survivors of violence and end violence against Indigenous women and girls eligible for federal support.

  3. Indigenous Services Canada give particular attention to gaps in rural, remote and isolated Northern communities and consider additional targeted investments, such as funding for satellite offices that provide independent, community-based support services to survivors of family violence such as the Native Women’s Association of NWT in under-served communities. Pilot projects could be undertaken in very isolated communities where victims have access to few resources such as Fort Good Hope and Fort Resolution.

Similar recommendations have been previously brought forward in my submission to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on the Status of Women: Study on the System of Shelters and Transition Houses Serving Women and Children Affected by Violence Against Women and Intimate Partner Violence. Please take action to address the grave need for safe shelter for women and children escaping violence in First Nations communities across Canada, by providing sustainable funding to construct and operate VAW shelters, and ensure that community-based support workers and resources are available in these communities. This will allow Indigenous women to remain close to home on their lands should they wish, but to escape violence and to rebuild their lives free from the threat of it. These funds will also help address male violence against women, as these Indigenous women’s shelters provide holistic family and community healing opportunities that include the men.

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my recommendations, and I look forward to your response.




Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime


Cc: The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada