NDP MP urges feds to create ‘Red Dress Alert’ for missing Indigenous women
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Ottawa should establish a system that would send the public a phone notification when an Indigenous woman goes missing to ensure that their disappearances stop being “normalized,” says an NDP member of Parliament.
Leah Gazan penned a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Friday urging the government to fund what she and other advocates call a “Red Dress Alert” program. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gazan says that while details of the program would have to be negotiated, she imagines it would operate similarly to the Amber Alert, which is an emergency notification people receive on their phones when a child in their region has been abducted or is believed to be in danger.
“We shouldn’t have to beg for our safety,” Gazan said in an interview Wednesday. “In Canada, we are still begging for safety and to live in dignity as Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.”
Research from across the country, including the 2019 final report from the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, shows that Indigenous people, and women in particular, disappear at a higher rate than people who are not Indigenous.
Gazan said that for years, advocates and the families of missing and murdered women and girls have said there needs to be a faster response by police and other authorities in their cases.
And because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recognized the crisis in missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as a genocide, he must act urgently to better protect them, Gazan said.
It’s “almost as if our disappearances (have) become so normalized that nobody looks for us,” she added.Setting up a specialized alert system, she said, “acknowledges the urgency.”
The Winnipeg MP said that if the public is better informed when Indigenous women and girls disappear, it will increase the likelihood that they are found.
“We know that the sooner cases start, the sooner searches start when somebody goes missing, the more likely they are to be found,” she said, pointing to the success of emergency notification programs for children.
Calls to set up a “Red Dress Alert” in Canada are not new, and some advocates have established grassroots-led efforts on their own, such as the Aboriginal Alert website, which publishes timely information and photos of Indigenous people who are missing.
Last year, Washington state established the “Missing Indigenous Person Alert System,” adding it to an existing alert system in place to broadcast the disappearances of children and seniors.
While its state patrol says that not every Indigenous person who is missing will qualify for the program, those that do are individuals who go missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances and appear to be vulnerable due to reasons such as age and health.
In her letter sent last week, Gazan pointed to the disappearances and deaths of at least four First Nations women who Winnipeg police believe were murdered by the same man.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman whom local Indigenous leaders have been referring to as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2023.