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 ‘official’ opening of 2nd Edition Coworking in downtown Fernie, a project five years in the making by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. Left to right: Executive Director of the Fernie Chamber Brad Parsell, incoming President of the Fernie Chamber Norm Fraser, outgoing President of the Fernie Chamber Anita Palmer, and Mayor of Fernie Ange Qualizza. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Fernie Chamber cuts the ribbon on 2nd Edition

The new coworking space in Fernie is now ‘officially’ open, but has been operating since early 2021

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks with the new AED SaveStation installed at the Sparwood Leisure Centre. (Contributed by District of Sparwood)
Sparwood installs public AED

The SaveStation was installed thanks to a grant from CP Rail

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

(File)
“Gift card scam,” and “grandparent scam” are on the rise, Cranbrook RCMP say

Folks are falling for these scams: “No Government agency or reputable company will ever ask anyone to pay with gift cards in lieu of their fines”

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

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 million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read