Stettler town council hears province proposes alarming changes to victim services

·3 min read

Stettler town council’s regular update on the local victim service's programming instead metastasized into an alarming update on the provincial government’s proposed changes to a service that apparently will selectively respond to one type of trauma. The report was made at the Sept. 6 regular meeting of council.

Councillors heard an update about Heartland Victims Services (HVS) programming from Program Manager Sheila Gongaware who began her presentation by describing the roles played by this organization within the Stettler community.

Gongaware noted HVS provides supports, information and referrals to people who suffer trauma ranging from the impacts of crime, suicide, motor vehicle accidents or trauma by natural causes.

Gongaware stated this year the provincial government began discussing proposed changes to victims services organizations across Alberta, dropping from several dozen boards down to four regional ones with the proposed changes taking effect by March, 2024.

She stated that in the central zone program managers like herself will be laid off and replaced with 41 case workers; apparently all program managers could re-apply for the case worker jobs.

After victims services programs are revised, according to Gangaware, there will be one program manager per zone and a coordinator will develop job descriptions for both the program manager and case worker positions.

Coun. Gord Lawlor asked if volunteers will continue to play an important role in victim services organizations, to which Gongaware responded, yes, the provincial government has given the impression that “advocates” as victims services volunteers are called will remain in place and apparently report to a zone manager.

Coun. Lawlor related his own 20 years as a victims services volunteer after his father experienced several armed robberies at his jewellery store in Ladner, B.C., which is part of the City of Delta. Lawlor stated the armed robberies were intense and shocking and left a lasting impression.

Lawlor also noted the many questions surrounding changes to victim services seems true to form with Alberta’s provincial government which answers questions by responding more information will be coming soon.

After Gongaware described the management network that’s proposed to operate the new victims services system Coun. Cheryl Barros said, “That’s a lot of people.”

Another detail of the proposed changes that elicited response from several councillors is that victim services staff will only respond to victims of crime, and that Albertans suffering under other forms of trauma in their life, including suicide, addictions, motor vehicle collisions and natural disasters, will be turned away.

During discussions several councillors stated they believed trauma was trauma, regardless of whether it stemmed from crime or a natural disaster.

Coun. Wayne Smith asked what problem these changes were supposed to solve.

Lawlor responded that changes originally seemed to address budget shortfalls, but added that in his opinion these proposed changes will be more expensive that the current model.

Coun. Kyle Baker observed it appeared a regional approach was being proposed. “They’re making it less local,” said Baker.

Councillors accepted Gongaware’s report as information.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review