Alberta victim services fund will now be used solely to support victims of crime

·3 min read
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced changes to the victims services fund in Sylvan Lake on Tuesday.  (Government of Alberta - image credit)
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced changes to the victims services fund in Sylvan Lake on Tuesday. (Government of Alberta - image credit)

The Alberta government is reversing changes to the victim services fund that had drawn criticism from advocacy groups, victims and their families.

Two years ago, the province decided to divert some contributions to the fund to pay for crime reduction programs like drug treatment courts and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT).

According to Alberta Justice's 2021-22 annual report, 59 per cent of the $64.7 million spent from the fund went toward public safety initiatives. About one-third, or $21 million, was allocated to victim services organizations. Only 8.5 per cent or $5.5 million went directly to victims.

Under changes announced Tuesday by Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, the fund will again be used entirely for helping victims recover from their physical and psychological injuries and supporting them through the court process.

The province is also expanding supports and providing emergency assistance when required.

"We know the previous financial benefits program was not quick enough and simply did not provide enough immediate support to those who were coping with trauma," Shandro told a news conference. "And that was not acceptable."

The changes come after UCP MLAs Angela Pitt and Nate Neudorf made 19 recommendations following consultations with stakeholders.

Starting Sept. 1, victims will now have two years, instead of the previous limit of 45 days, to apply for assistance from the fund.

Funding for counselling, which was capped at $1,000 under the old program, will now have a maximum of $12,000.

Victims who suffer serious brain or neurological injuries will be eligible for up to $100,000 in lump-sum funding, and monthly payments of $1,000. Victims with other types of disabling injuries can apply for a $60,000 lump sum fund.

The program will give victims of domestic violence access to emergency financial assistance for temporary housing and relocation. Victims of serious crimes can apply for up to $1,000 of immediate crisis counselling in addition to $11,000 of counselling to help them through the court process.

The fund will also cover expenses for victims who need to travel to appear in court. Families of homicide victims can be reimbursed for funeral expenses up to $12,500.

The victim of crimes fund was worth $44 million as of March 31.

The Opposition NDP has criticized changes to the fund since they were first implemented. Irfan Sabir, the NDP critic for justice, said victims will still have to wait while the government takes a year to phase-in the new program.

Sabir said the government's decision to dip into the fund to pay for public safety programs kept victims from receiving the supports they deserved.

"The purpose of this fund was to support victims of crime," he said. "This should not be used to backfill the UCP cuts to the justice system."

A Calgary woman whose teenage daughter was sexually assaulted by a man working in a restaurant is dismayed that money collected to help crime victims was used by the government to fund what she calls "a law and order agenda."

She said her daughter's application for assistance from the fund was turned down, leaving the family paying for tens of thousands of dollars of therapy.

The woman, who the CBC is not identifying, hopes the government will allow victims to make a retroactive application for financial assistance.

"That would be really important because victims of crime in the last four or five years have absolutely missed out on the compensation that they actually really need in order to put their lives back in order," she said.

The government is dissolving 62 victim services units across Alberta and creating four new regional boards representing the east, west, south and central areas of the province.

Each board will have administrative support staff which will give case workers more time to support victims.

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