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EDITORIAL: Changes to victim services worrisome for small communities

EDITORIAL: The changes by the province to the way victim service units are run are threatening to remove vital aspects of the safety net that could impact the delivery of services to rural areas such as the Bow Valley.
november-3-2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

It’s hard to know the potential loss of something until you actually need it.

Most people will hopefully never be the victim of a crime and will never need to access services that so many rely on after being victimized.

The changes by the province to the way victim service units are run are threatening to remove vital aspects of the safety net that could impact the delivery of services to rural areas such as the Bow Valley.

Under the government’s announced changes, the dissolution of 62 victim service units would take place and be replaced with a zone model reflective of the four areas of RCMP’s provincial districts.

While the majority of victim service units would still be located with RCMP – much like those of the Bow Valley are – the dissolution of local boards would be shifted to a regional zone model.

The province has indicated it will push forward on a shift to a zone model, which could impact the already slim resources available at the local level. Municipalities could take over victim service staff, which would lead to additional downloading on local taxpayers.

If it sounds like a song you’ve heard before, it’s similar to changes brought in the zone model for Alberta Health Services and an ambulance system that is held up as a success by no one.

Much like the Hindenburg or Titanic, the zone model has shown itself to be a disaster of what can be achieved when an organization is more in tune with the needs of a local community rather than run out of a distant major centre.

An Auditor General’s report in 2016 called for improved funding, particularly in the level of staffing. Advocacy from Alberta Municipalities in 2019 emphasized the need for crime victims to be prioritized in services, for programs to be better promoted and mental health services be a main focus for victims.

Despite the calls, a large portion of the Victims of Crime Fund – 59 per cent of $64.7 million – went to public safety initiatives as opposed to helping crime victims, according to Alberta Justice’s 2021-22 annual report. After other expenses, it left $5.5 million to help crime victims, which was a significant drop in the $19.4 million in 2018-19.

The police-based victim service units – which the Bow Valley falls into – use fundraising as a large source of revenue to aid in services.

A step forward came in July when the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General said the Victims of Crime Fund would solely be used to help victims recover. Other changes saw increased financial support for counselling, extended medical health benefits to victims and help victims with reimbursement for attending court.

However, when one foot goes forward another seemingly goes back.

Recommendations would see certain programs of funding stripped such as people dealing with sudden death, those who flee a traumatic scenario and need help or injury benefits for survivors of traumatic injuries.

It could also leave people who rely on in-person support more frequently using phone services as a replacement.

While a price tag is put on victim services, it’s tough to fully comprehend the benefit of what it offers until it’s actually needed.

Since 1994, Bow Valley Victim Services Association has helped thousands from Lake Louise to Lac Des Arcs and everywhere in between.

From issues of sexual assault, domestic abuse, suicide, property crime and a slew of other traumas, victim services is intended to be there at someone’s darkest moments.

The role of the service units are difficult on the best of days without roadblocks and obstacles being tossed in their way.

What is coming – unless a change occurs – could be its biggest challenge yet.