A central Alberta agency that assists those who have suffered sexual assault has joined the call to preserve a fund for victims of crime.
Recently, the United Conservative government introduced a bill that would expand the scope of the Victims of Crime Fund to include specialized police teams, drug treatment courts and the hiring of more Crown prosecutors.
Money for the fund comes from provincial fine surcharges and is meant to help crime victims through financial relief and support programs.
Patricia Arango, executive director of the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre, said it’s not fair to take money away from victims.
“We need more policing. We need more Crown prosecutors. We need drug courts. We need more and more help in many different ways. But also we need prevention. We need to help the victims,” Arango said.
In the spring, the province raised the fine surcharge to 20 per cent from 15, so the fund’s annual budget will increase to $60 million from $40 million. The fund also has developed a healthy surplus.
Agencies advocating against a change in the scope of the fund include the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters and several other groups.
Arango said her agency is community based to help victims who report the crime to police, as well as those who don’t, unlike police-based victim services, which only help victims who make an official report.
“That means we help every single victim.”
She said the pandemic and quarantine have been tough on victims.
“Nobody said stay home (only) if you are safe, so most of the people stayed home with an enemy, so the trauma is even worse.”
Arango said most of the money from the fund goes to help agencies in Calgary and Edmonton. Her agency doesn’t receive a significant amount, but still counts on that funding.
Mark Jones, CEO at the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, said money from the fund helps pay for a victim advocate co-ordinator at the centre, and there has been no indication that money will be affected by proposed changes.
“That funding is critical for us to continue to provide supports to children and families that come into our centre to be able to guide them and navigate them through the whole process, from court preparation, to getting them mental health therapies, and connecting with community agencies,” Jones said.
— with files from The Canadian Press