02/06/2015 04:21 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT

B.C. government pours proceeds of crime into fighting domestic violence

SURREY, B.C. - Premier Christy Clark is upgrading her government's strategy for ending domestic violence in B.C., with a central role being played by police, even as she divests herself from decisions made by the RCMP on a closely-related issue.

Clark distanced herself on Friday from the RCMP decision to scale back the task force that investigates missing and murdered women along the so-called Highway of Tears.

Six officers were cut from project E-PANA last year, despite warnings to government from top brass the move would impair their ability to conduct historical homicide investigations.

"I don't intend to play a role in directing the RCMP about how they're going to deploy what are increased resources," she told reporters gathered at the main detachment of Surrey RCMP.

The premier said she didn't want to be critical of the force, but that the province boosted the RCMP's overall budget by $5 million last year.

"So they'll make their decisions and we'll make ours," she said. "And on our list is making sure we deliver on all the recommendations that were made by Justice Oppal's Commission."

Former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Wally Oppal led an extensive public inquiry into murdered and missing women in the province, mainly focused on serial killer Robert Pickton.

Clark referred to completing the report's recommendations as she unveiled the "Violence Free B.C." plan.

She said the province intends to take another step along a path to societal change, starting by diverting money from "the bad guys" to their victims.

The province will use $3 million in civil forfeiture funds this year to pay for a new Domestic Violence Unit in Surrey, B.C. — the sixth of its kind to open in the province.

The money will also be used for local support services and an awareness campaign. The funds are intended to be rolled over each year.

The strategy will boost prevention programs in schools, develop a provincial sexual assault policy and improve culturally-appropriate job programs for aboriginal women who are rebuilding their lives after suffering trauma.

More than 12,300 people reported they were victims of intimate-partner violence to police in 2013, while 113 woman died as a result of domestic violence between 2004 and 2014, according to government statistics. Aboriginal women are nearly three times as likely to suffer spousal abuse, and their experiences tend to be the most severe.

Aboriginal women make up the bulk of 18 cases originally assigned to the missing women's task force, which was attempting to determine whether a serial killer was at work in the area around Highway 16 or the Highway of Tears.

Some 70 officers staffed E-PANA at its height, but after attrition and the more recent cuts it currently sits at 12.

The budget for E-PANA dropped to $1.8 million for 2012-2013, from about $5 million in previous years, according to a table released through a freedom-of-information request.

A spokeswoman for the RCMP, Sgt. Annie Linteau, said she could not immediately provide an answer to queries about how the additional $5 million was spent within the police's budget.

Pressed on the province's stand-back approach to the project E-PANA cuts, Clark said her government is still working to fulfil another recommendation — improving transportation options along the notorious Highway 16.

Later asked whether a transportation funding announcement would be forthcoming, Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said that work comprised "ongoing consultation."

"It's not as straightforward as saying we'll put a shuttle across (the highway)."

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