Pro­vin­cial vic­tim ser­vice group rais­ing alarm about Bill 16

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - FARM NEWS - By Trevor Busch

Al­berta News­pa­per Group

In­ten­tions by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to lay hands on a sub­stan­tial sur­plus in the Vic­tims of Crime Fund (VOCF) and re­al­lo­cat­ing these dol­lars into more po­lice and prose­cu­tors on the ground is draw­ing a stern re­buke from a pro­vin­cial vic­tim ser­vice as­so­ci­a­tion.

Pro­posed gov­ern­ment changes to the man­ner in which vic­tims of crime or tragedy are be­ing served in Al­berta has been de­bated through the Vic­tims of Crime (Strength­en­ing Pub­lic Safety) Amend­ment Act, known as Bill 16, which was in­tro­duced by the UCP in late May. The VOCF is in a sur­plus sit­u­a­tion and at last es­ti­mate, the fund had an ex­cess of $74 mil­lion.

“Once the leg­is­la­tion is in place — the amend­ment passes — then the min­is­ter (Doug Schweitzer, Jus­tice and So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral) has ac­cess to that money that’s sit­ting in there. And the in­ten­tion in spend­ing that money is on more polic­ing and more prose­cu­tors, based on the com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions he did around the prov­ince, the town halls that he held,” said Alf Rudd, pres­i­dent of the Al­berta Po­lice Based Vic­tim Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion (APBVSA). “We tried like crazy to get a meet­ing with the new min­is­ter when the gov­ern­ment was formed so we could (move) our po­si­tion for­ward and tell him about the work that we do, and were un­suc­cess­ful in three at­tempts to get a meet­ing set up, and just wouldn’t re­spond to that. We did get three of our se­nior staffers, through an­other con­nec­tion, a half hour phone meet­ing with him, but that was pretty much un­pro­duc­tive. So we tried — some of these town hall meet­ings, let’s go to those — I tried to regis­ter, but the regis­tra­tion was closed down on­line. So one of our mem­bers at­tended the meet­ing, and once they found out at the door that our mem­ber was a ser­vice provider, they said ‘no, this is not for ser­vice providers,’ and wouldn’t even let us go in. We were re­ally con­cerned with that.”

The APBVSA was es­tab­lished as a non-profit so­ci­ety in 1997 when po­lice-based pro­grams across the prov­ince iden­ti­fied the need for a col­lec­tive voice for pro­grams, and it is an ac­cred­ited or­ga­ni­za­tion through Imag­ine Canada and the largest po­lice-based vic­tim ser­vices as­so­ci­a­tion in Canada. Mem­ber­ship in­cludes 73 po­lice-based vic­tim ser­vice pro­grams op­er­at­ing in all ju­ris­dic­tions in Al­berta.

Vic­tims of crime pro­grams are funded by the VOCF, which is sus­tained by an added fine sur­charge on con­vic­tion for an of­fence in Al­berta against pro­vin­cial laws and the Crim­i­nal Code. The funds are not tax dol­lars. The prov­ince also in­creased the vic­tim-fine sur­charge in April from 15 to 20 per cent.

Rudd be­lieves poach­ing the VOCF for pub­lic safety ini­tia­tives, such as hir­ing more po­lice or Crown prose­cu­tors, will come at a cost to vic­tims of crime in Al­berta.

“The re­sults of the con­sul­ta­tion (town halls) was a lot more po­lice. Well, that’s easy to cheer, but did you tell them at what cost it was go­ing to come? That money that’s ear­marked for vic­tims of crime is go­ing to be clawed back? Did you tell them that? Did you tell them ‘oh, hey, by the way, I’ve al­ready taxed you’ — mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties are now pay­ing a polic­ing bill in ru­ral Al­berta that they didn’t pay be­fore — what about that money? What are you do­ing with that money? You in­creased the fine sur­charge by five per cent, what about that money? How many times are we be­ing asked to pay for the same thing? Now, just be­cause that sur­plus is sit­ting there, it’s tempt­ing. He (Schweitzer) just needs to have a change in the act and write him­self a cheque. We find that very un­fair.”

The sur­plus funds in the VOCF should re­main ded­i­cated to help­ing vic­tims of crime through var­i­ous sup­port pro­grams, as­serts the APBVSA.

“We’ve been work­ing hard for that last two years to come up with a solution on what to do with that sur­plus that is there,” ex­plained Rudd.

“We have units that are still hold­ing pan­cake break­fasts, and rais­ing money, and ask­ing for money to come in from gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties, and all at the same time money is sit­ting there and not be­ing used,” con­tin­ued Rudd, who also serves as pro­gram man­ager for Taber/Vaux­hall Vic­tim Ser­vices. “Those are the kinds of con­ver­sa­tions we wanted to have but didn’t have an op­por­tu­nity to have with this gov­ern­ment. We were hold­ing them pre­vi­ously, and we were mak­ing some progress, but it just got shut down. The UCP al­ready put in 500 ad­di­tional of­fi­cers, and put in the rapid force, and want­ing to ex­pand the au­thor­ity of other en­force­ment agen­cies…and then tax­ing ev­ery­one, and now com­ing af­ter this money. Where does it end? You can have a lot of of­fi­cers, but why don’t we tact­fully use the ones that we have? It’s not how many, it’s how you use them. We know that prop­erty crime statis­tics are go­ing down in ru­ral ar­eas. It’s not a huge change, but it’s go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

The con­cept of hav­ing more po­lice and prose­cu­tors on the front lines may sell well po­lit­i­cally, ar­gues Rudd, but it may come at a sub­stan­tial cost to pro­grams for vic­tims in the prov­ince. And he added the VOCF has been ad­e­quately man­aged up to this point.

“Rob­bing from fru­gal, ju­di­cious Peter to pay the greedy, flashy Paul. There’s a lot of show­man­ship. That plays well, when you’re say­ing I’m go­ing to bring you more law en­force­ment. But once you take from Peter, it’s gone. This whole fund­ing struc­ture that was set up with the fund­ing com­ing from the fine sur­charge, I think there was some pru­dent ste­ward­ship of that money, and what’s wrong with that? Why does that have to be up­set? Why can’t that go to guar­an­tee a fu­ture? That’s a theme that’s been played be­fore in Al­berta with the Her­itage Trust Fund.”

Rudd, who has also served pre­vi­ously as chief of the Taber Po­lice Ser­vice, be­lieves there will be no im­me­di­ate im­pact on crime re­duc­tion by putting more boots on the ground, as this is tra­di­tion­ally a 14-18 month process.

“I don’t know if there were cit­i­zens in Al­berta that at­tended these town halls and were con­sulted, I don’t know how they would have felt if on the agenda it was ‘oh, and by the way, this is all go­ing to come at the cost of re­duc­ing sup­port for vic­tims.’ I don’t think that would have played very well, and I don’t think that was on the agenda.”

Bill 16 was ad­journed in the house last week on sec­ond read­ing for con­sid­er­a­tion of amend­ments.

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