One of this province’s most powerful Indigenous leaders says she has “little faith” that a newly announced Integrated Missing Persons Response unit that will be run by the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) will help police locate more missing Indigenous people in Manitoba.

“We have little faith that the Winnipeg Police Service can handle a hub for our missing loved ones,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a Tuesday media release.

“Families of missing persons feel time and time again that police do not prioritize their cases, and lack proper effort and cooperation with communities.”

On Monday, the province announced $2.1 million in funding to create the new Integrated Missing Persons Response unit, which will see WPS oversee all missing person reports in Manitoba.

According to the province, there were 9,300 missing person reports in Winnipeg alone last year, and another 3,500 missing persons investigations launched by the RCMP outside of Winnipeg.

“The investment will reduce the number of missing adults and children across the province, and provide coordinated inter-agency supports to those that go missing chronically,” the province said in a Monday media release.

But Merrick criticized the announcement, and what she said was a lack of consultation with AMC on the plan.

“The WPS has already had oversight on these files for decades, which has not served us well,” Merrick said.

“As well, this announcement came without proper consultation of our First Nations and our regional political office which is currently working with a number of organizations, including the WPS, the RCMP and the Province on searching for loved ones in landfills.

“One would assume they would have come to us to share this news before it was announced.”

The province said the unit also aligns directly with several recommendations of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, such as the need for better-supported community-based first response, and more responsive, transparent, and accountable policing.

Merrick also criticized the plan because she said it will give more money, and more control over data to WPS.

“The WPS has already proven that the resources they were given for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) have been expended without any notable improvement on the issue,” Merrick said. “And now they will receive more funds and control over information collection about MMIWG2S+ cases.

“The First Nations Family Advocacy Office (FNFAO) has submitted a proposal and received approval to create an MMIWG2S+ database that is more interactive and informed by families. This database would include a historical and active missing persons database, with a space for families to share details when needed and be able to connect to resources.”

A WPS spokesperson defended recent WPS efforts to locate missing people.

“In 2022, the WPS Missing Persons Unit handled more than 9,300 cases. The vast majority of those reported missing are female,” the spokesperson said in an email. “During that time period, the only adult female reported as missing who has not yet been located is Ashley Shingoose. If anyone has any information on her whereabouts, we would ask the public to contact the Missing Persons Unit at 204-986-6250.”

The province said on Monday that more consultation will be required to determine the final make-up of the new unit, and did not say when the unit would begin operating.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 22, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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