Bill 16 - victims of crime & safety act

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President of APBVSA Brian Turpin
Bill 16: More enforcement, less victim-focused services
Treasurer of APBVSA Paul Schmidt

Bill 16: More enforcement, less victim-focused service

Public concerns have emerged after the proposed amendment to the Victims of Crime Act (now known as the Victims of Crime and Public Safety Act). This amendment could result in a reduction of services for victims and an increase in enforcement measures, including an increase in policing, as well as a larger number of Crown prosecutors.

 

Tracy Allard, Grande Prairie, and Angela Pitt are MLAs with the Victims of Crime task force who will be a part of the bill’s consultation phases with victim service units and victims to fine-tune the bill until the end of September. During the consultation phases, the team will be relying on various organizations “to be the voice for victims.” However, others are also being encouraged to share their experiences. Furthermore, according to Allard and Pitt, Bill 16 would expand the Victims of Crime Fund’s scope to add additional preventive measures. Allard stated that the "goal is to develop a system where victims receive the services and supports they need when and where they need them."

 

The preventive measures that would be implemented include the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence (RAPID) Force. This force would allow peace officers to assist the RCMP to improve response times in rural areas. Allard believes that if criminals realize there are increased patrols in the area, they would be less likely to engage in a criminal act. "There’s a lot of prevention that the police do in our rural communities, prior to these kinds of things happening, [like] working with families before an incident," said Pitt.

 

Increasing the number of Crown prosecutors would help to alleviate some of the challenges surrounding court time availability needed to prosecute. This would help with delays, thus providing victims with justice promptly.

 

In contrast, victim services have seen a reduction in grants where instead of receiving three years of funding, victim services will now only receive one year of funding. Subsequently, victim service organizations have had trouble planning given these changes. Pitt stated that this is something they are trying to bring back and the hope is that the three-year term could be reinstated to help with the planning challenges being faced across the region.

 

The Jasper Victim Services coordinator and newly appointed treasurer of the Alberta Police Based Victim Services Association (APBVSA), Paul Schmidt relayed these challenges in an email conversation with Allard and Pitt. Due to the cuts that have been made and the one-year grant limits, volunteers are not able to be rewarded and training is expected to be severely impacted. According to Schmidt, "the act was scheduled to change and add funds to support programs, instead, we are now looking at further cuts and possibly funding agencies that are not victim-centred."

 

Schmidt went on to explain that rural areas have not seen an increase that exceeds the $150,000 cap in over 12 years. Caps for larger municipalities have increased since 2008, however, this was due in part to the increased budget requirements. Pitt believes this reveals the imbalance in victim services between rural and urban areas. This is not equitable, as it does not account for population growth nor cultural components. While changes commence, there will be uncertainty going forward with Bill 16 in terms of funding.

 

With regards to Victim of Crime funding, Pitt claimed “There was a certain dollar amount attached to a certain crime in Alberta. Bill 16 needs some changes; with lesser crimes, there’s no longer compensation to victims."Pitt also stated that there are concerns about who handles the fund and the importance of recognizing how each situation is unique.

 

Schmidt went on to discuss the fact that he has been actively involved in public consultations yet his input was not considered. He was assured that the engagement team would review his concerns to help inform the leadership involved in decision making. His recommendations were not reflected in the changes and he explained that "victims will pay the price." Schmidt's claims of the lack of consideration have been confirmed by the Solicitor General staff.

 

The APBVSA president, Brain Turpin explained that Bill 16 takes away the firewall that protects victims. More specifically, there was a "protected fund that could only be used to support victims of crime. That fund has always been protected. Currently, we are the only province in Canada to not have that firewall. It gives sweeping powers to the government to funnel money wherever they want to."

 

Turpin continued to relay the notion that increased policing may result in a reduction of rural and property crime, but will not impact the overall types of crimes that victim services units typically encounter. For example, the APBVSA handles a large number of sexual assault and domestic violence cases, a type of crime that increased policing will not impact. He believes that increasing patrolling numbers will not impact these cases, as well as other types of crimes such as child abuse, since they most often occur behind closed doors. Turpin and the association are looking forward to working with the team of MLA’s to share input and foster change.

 

Turpin also discussed a letter sent by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Heidi Illingworth, to premier Jason Kenney. The letter addressed concerns around the impact that Bill 16 would have, such as the fact that the amendment would diversity funds that help victims' services. Illingworth stated that there is value in well-funded programs that emphasize that victim services make a difference in the experiences that victims have with the criminal justice system. The result could be the difference between a positive or traumatic experience.

 

Despite these changes, Schmidt noted the strength of Jasper Victim Services and that a financial reserve will help the organization get through these uncertain times. The organization has 12 advocates who are on-call, have diverse backgrounds and understand the needs of the community. The community has helped Jasper Victim Services with financial support through events such as the Golf Tournament Fundraiser which raises over $30,000 annually.

 

If you are interested in learning more follow the link to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

VICTIM SERVICES ALBERTA
Alberta Police Based Victim Services
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