Heidi Illingworth, federal ombudsman for victims of crime, takes part in an interview at her office in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Heidi Illingworth, federal ombudsman for victims of crime, takes part in an interview at her office in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Watchdog worries federal benefit for parents of missing, murdered kids going unused

Heidi Illingworth said the key is raising awareness of the program for families that need it

The federal ombudsman for victims of crime says she remains concerned that financial aid for parents of murdered or missing children remains largely unused despite new and proposed changes to the program.

Heidi Illingworth said the key is raising awareness of the program for families that need it.

The Liberals overhauled the program following a critical review of the benefit by Illingworth’s predecessor in 2018 that showed administrative costs far outstripped the amounts paid to parents.

Additional changes to ease and expand access to the program, and double to 104 weeks the leave available to parents under the Canada Labour Code, are contained in the government’s budget bill currently before the House of Commons.

Illingworth said the budget bill provisions are welcome to bring federal labour laws in line with the revamped benefit.

She added that the pandemic may have an impact on the program, just as it has had on many aspects of people’s lives.

“We still have a lot to figure out about what exactly the impact has been of the pandemic, especially on children and youth,” she said in an interview.

The program set up by the previous Conservative government offered up to $12,250 to parents whose children had either been killed or gone missing as a result of a probable criminal offence in Canada.

Annual funding was set at $10 million and the government estimated it would help 1,000 families each year, even though children generally make up a small percentage of homicide victims in Canada. Of those who go missing, few are taken by a stranger.

The ombudsman’s review from 2018 cited tight eligibility rules that excluded families from qualifying among other issues about why spending was a fraction of the overall budget.

The review noted that only 0.5 per cent of $33 million budgeted for grants between Jan. 1, 2013, and March 2016 went to eligible parents, while administrative costs were 14 times more the $170,520 in paid grants.

The changes to the program the Liberals raised the maximum grant to $15,750 over 35 weeks during the two years following the incident and raised the age of eligibility of the child to 25 years old.

The final accounting on government spending for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, tabled in November, showed only $277,020 in benefits from the $9.5-million budget.

In April, a federal website tracking the outcomes of programs showed the government met the only benchmark for the grant that was to respond to applications within 35 days, which the website said happened 100 per cent of the time.

Illingworth said her office is looking for more data from the government to determine whether more families who need the aid have qualified under the new set of rules.

“I hope that access to it has increased, but I’m still worried that a lot of people don’t know about this,” Illingworth said.

“It’s hard to make people aware (of the program). That’s a challenge, I think, that a lot of government programs have in reaching people who need it the most.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

missing First Nations

Just Posted

The Red Chris open pit mine approximately 80 km south of Dease Lake. The province and Tahltan will start negotiations on the first consent-based decision-making agreement ever to be negotiated under DRIPA with regards to two mining projects in northern B.C. (Newcrest Mining photo)
B.C. to begin DRIPA-based negotiations with Tahltan First Nation on two northwest mining projects

Negotiations on Red Chris and Eskay Creek mines to commence soon in accordance with Section 7 of DRIPA

President of the Tahltan Central Government, Chad Norman Day, surveys Tahltan territory by helicopter in this July 2019 handout photo. The Tahltan Nation and the British Columbia government have struck what officials say is a historic agreement for shared decision-making for the nation’s territory in northwestern B.C., a hot spot for mineral exploration. Day says the deal shows they are “getting closer and closer to a true nation-to-nation relationship.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Tahltan Central Government
Tahltan Nation, B.C. government sign agreement for shared decision-making

Deal commits the province and the northwest B.C. nation to developing a land-use plan

Tahltan First Nation wildlife guardian, Jarett Quock, above and below right, was awarded the Outstanding Individual Leadership Award by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative on June 3. (Photos courtesy Adam Amir)
Tahltan wildlife guardian receives outstanding leadership award

Jarett Quock’s contributions were recognised by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative

Taylor Bachrach, NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley addresses Parliament on June 7, in call for the federal government to stop fighting Indigenous children in court and to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. (Image: supplied from Facebook)
NDP motion calling for immediate reconciliation action passes

Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach addresses federal Parliament

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read