Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Documents Show Feds Saw Few Hurdles to Overhaul Under-Used Victims Fund

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Documents Show Feds Saw Few Hurdles to Overhaul Under-Used Victims Fund

Article excerpt

Feds delay changes to under-used victims fund

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OTTAWA - Federal officials expressed concerns about possible changes to a grant program for parents of missing and murdered children that only doles out a tiny fraction of its multimillion-dollar budget, newly released documents show.

The July briefing material, crafted for the minister in charge of the program, shows that officials fully expected to go ahead with efforts to simplify the application process and expand outreach efforts to raise awareness about the five-year-old fund, completing both by the end of 2017.

However, loosening what one watchdog described as restrictive eligibility criteria carried "varying levels of program risk," Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos was told. What was meant by that, along with the options presented to Duclos, are blacked out from the documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The government has yet to act on the eligibility criteria -- central to the changes advocates had were hoping for after a critical review of the program in August by then-victims ombudsman Sue O'Sullivan, which found grant take-up was abysmally low and that administrating the fund was costing 14 times as much as the grants themselves.

Despite O'Sullivan's findings, "essentially, the grant has been meeting its objectives in providing income support to current applicants," the documents show Duclos was told.

Heidi Illingworth, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, called it disappointing that officials appear to have been "satisfied with the status quo."

"We know that very few parents have accessed the funding overall compared to the costs to run the program," Illingworth said.

Federal outreach efforts since the briefing have done little to boost take-up of the grant, which continues to spend less than one per cent of its annual $10-million budget on grants, and far more on administering the money.

Duclos spokesman Mathieu Filion said the government is still working on changes with the input of stakeholders and the victims ombudsman -- a position the Liberals have yet to fill, a delay advocates say has only compounded issues. …

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