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Provincial changes to victim services criticized in Bow Valley

“If you are a victim of trauma in Calgary and Edmonton, you will still get help. For a program policed by the RCMP, you will no longer get assistance.”

CANMORE – With the province moving towards a homogenized model for victim services, there is concern in the Bow Valley it will negatively impact those who need the service.

Currently, 62 victim services programs exist in Alberta, but as of April 1, 2024, all of those will dissolve into a four-zone model. Most of the programs are currently regional.

“One of the biggest impacts will be victims of trauma won’t receive support from their program anymore,” said Bow Valley Victim Services Executive Director Peter Quinn. “There are 62 not-for-profits that currently provide services to victims of crime and trauma. That number has grown over the 30 years to make sure all the province receives services.”

In 2020, the Alberta government passed legislation that expanded the scope of the Victims of Crime Fund to include public initiatives. MLAs Nathan Neudorf and Angela Pitt, both representing urban areas, were tasked with leading a working group to review gaps in the service.

An interim program replaced financial benefits for victims. Of the $64.7 million spent from the Victims of Crime fund, only 8.5 per cent went directly to victims, amounting to $5.5 million. Prior to 2018-19, $19.4 million went directly to victims.

Alberta Municipalities called on the government to reverse changes to the Victims of Crime Fund. A recommendation report was released in July that announced the Victims of Crime Fund would be used entirely for helping victims recover from physical and psychological injuries and supporting them through the court process.

Mixed in with this announcement was Recommendations on Victim Services, a report that contained 19 recommendations, one of which was dissolving the 62 local boards.

Under the existing system, there are municipal police-based programs that provide services to victims of crime and trauma, and there are RCMP-based programs. With the new recommendations, the municipal programs will not change, while the RCMP-based programs will. Bow Valley Victim Services is an RCMP-based program.

“If you are a victim of trauma in Calgary and Edmonton, you will still get help,” Quinn said. “For a program policed by the RCMP, you will no longer get assistance.”

Instead of receiving in-person assistance, victims will be told to call a phone number.

“Most of the people we assist, they need in-person assistance,” Quinn said. “They are visitors to the area. People that have just walked in and found a loved one who has been in an accident, died from suicide, or are dealing with a sudden death. These people don’t need someone to assist them over the phone, they need someone to help.”

According to Quinn, from 2015 to 2020, 2,400 people required assistance from Bow Valley Victim Services.

“That is 2,400 people who would no longer receive help after the most serious types of events that you can imagine,” he said.

Both the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn are putting their support behind efforts by Alberta Municipalities to pressure the provincial government to not implement its Recommendations on Victim Services report.

“There were two recommendations that we opposed,” said Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert. “Recommendation three, which dissolved 62 local victim service boards and switch to a four-zone model. Recommendation five, removing support for victims of tragedy.”

Krausert said the result of the recommendations of the government will be fewer victim services available, and many victims no longer being eligible for support.

At the Alberta Municipalities resolution session on Sept. 22, the Town of Canmore put forward an emergent resolution regarding the victim services redesign.

The resolution, which was seconded by the Town of Tofield, called on Alberta Municipalities to advocate for the province to halt the rollout of the new victim services model and initiate a new engagement process that fully involves municipalities of all sizes.

It also called for the exploration of how the current model could be maintained and adapted and include support for victims of tragedy.

“The report came out that was created by basically two MLAs. There was no meaningful consultation with municipalities or victims and that report didn’t even consider the option of maintaining the current services model,” Krausert said. “What we sought from Alberta Municipalities was them being able to advocate on behalf of the municipalities against these changes.”

The Alberta Municipalities' resolution was passed successfully.

It is the hope of Krausert the resolution and subsequent pressure will bring about a change.

“Since this resolution, I heard they may be speaking in different terms than they had previously,” Krausert said. “I think there is definitely room for Alberta Municipalities to act on behalf of its members.”

Quinn also spoke with the MD of Bighorn council as a delegate on Oct. 11. He brought the MD up to speed on the proposed changes from the provincial government.

“There doesn’t appear to be much information right now on how that transition would work,” said MD of Bighorn Reeve Lisa Rosvold.

The MD was informed of the resolution passed by Alberta Municipalities, put forward by the Town of Canmore.

“They were just seeing if there would be support from the municipality to do the same thing,” Rosvold said. “That was how they saw we could offer support to Bow Valley Victim Services.”

For Quinn, he is not against changes to the program, but only if it provides better services to victims of crime and trauma.

“I don’t see the changes the government is making as providing better support,” he said. “It takes away existing services.”

While communities are advocating to preserve the current model of victim services, Quinn said individuals can have an impact as well.

“I think talking to your local MLA and letting them know if you have been assisted by the program, and if you are sorry to see the program disappear from the area,” Quinn said. “Let the Minister of Justice (Tyler Shandro) know that these changes that he is recommending, if you believe they are not beneficial, tell your elected officials that.”

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