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Funds earmarked for native women

Canadian Press

OTTAWA

federal government is set to announce $5-million in spending to help reduce the ranks of murdered or missing aboriginal women.

Liza Frulla, minister responsible for the status of women, will release the five-year plan this week, according to sources for The Canadian Press.

It's part of a spending blizzard whipped up by the minority Liberals as they gird for an expected election. Politics aside, however, the Native Women's Association of Canada says the cash is needed to send a vital message.

"The value of aboriginal women in Canada is less than every other Canadian woman," executive director Sherry Lewis said.

"There's a perception out there that we're easy targets, and that nothing will happen to you if you decide to cause us harm. That's what Canadian people need to understand."

Her group will use the money to gather case histories on missing women. Those life stories will be culled for trends that could help shape laws, police procedure, shelter services and public education.

"We've got women in danger in Canada," Ms. Lewis said. "And there's not a public outcry to do something about it."

Arthur Chartier's ex-wife, Janet Henry, is one of the missing women.

He last saw her about three months before she disappeared in June of 1997. They were married for 11 years but had broken up before Ms. Henry descended into a life of drugs and occasional prostitution on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"The whole society needs to change . . . so people start treating people like people," Mr. Chartier said. "Those women are treated like animals."

He suspects Ms. Henry may have ended up at Robert Pickton's pig farm. She disappeared suddenly, without a word to the daughter with whom she had always kept in close touch.

Mr. Pickton, of suburban Port Coquitlam, is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder. Those victims are among at least 69 women who went missing from the seedy enclave of flop houses and shooting galleries where Ms. Henry spent her last months.

Police have said their probe of Mr. Pickton's property has turned up 31 separate DNA samples, and that more charges are pending.

Families of missing prostitutes in the Vancouver area, many of them aboriginal, have publicly complained about lacklustre police efforts -- especially in the earliest stages of investigations.

Ms. Lewis wants to explore how the abusive legacy of Indian residential schools -- combined with legally enshrined discrimination in the Indian Act -- has helped make native women especially vulnerable.

Amnesty International reported last year that racism and sexism "flavour" police investigations of missing or murdered native women.

Researchers spent six months talking to victims' families, aboriginal leaders and investigators before releasing a report that made several recommendations.

The Native Women's Association used the document in its push for federal funding to better document cases and raise awareness.

While police insist they handle each case individually, Amnesty International found that aboriginal women are doubly victimized: racism makes them a target, and it often means they receive less police and media attention.

It recommended a national, co-ordinated approach to track native women who have gone missing -- about 500 of them over the past 20 years.

In Edmonton, fears are growing as the number of women killed in the region continues to climb.

This month, Ellie May Meyer, 33, became the fifth prostitute found dead near Edmonton since January of 2003. Two others have been found near Camrose, Alta., less than 50 kilometres away.

In all, 12 women described by police as leading "high-risk lifestyles" -- some of them aboriginal -- have been killed in the area in the past 16 years.

But Edmonton's mayor and its police commission last year denounced allegations of systemic racism made by the Native Women's Association of Canada.

The claims were also rebuffed by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, an Edmonton-based non-profit group.

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