A temporary compensation program for victims of crime in Alberta is depriving people of the benefits they deserve, say victims and advocates.
Changes in the way the Government of Alberta allocates money from the Victims of Crime and Public Safety Fund could also result in higher long-term costs to the health care system, social services and communities. corrections, said Debra Tomlinson, CEO of the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services.
“It’s really not enough to meet the needs of survivors of sexual assault,” she said of the program.
Anger is 45 days a victim has to claim benefits. The candidates were two years old from the date of the crime.
“It’s really naive and, frankly, misinformed to make a decision about what it means for a survivor to even acknowledge for themselves what happened, let alone report it,” Mary Jane James said. , CEO of the Sexual Assault Center in Edmonton.
There is also now a limit of $ 1,000 on reimbursements for counseling. Tomlinson and James say it’s nowhere near enough to cover the amount of treatment most victims need. Most qualified therapists charge around $ 200 an hour.
The changes confuse Dawn Aitken. Eight years ago, a man assaulted her while she was serving legal papers to someone on a rural property.
She was in denial at first. It took her years to seek advice after another violent incident. A victim services volunteer told her about the benefits and she applied just before the old two-year deadline.
It is “ridiculous” to expect victims to file a complaint within six weeks, she said.
“I don’t see myself in a state of mind to be able to fill out paperwork,” Aitken said. “To maybe even discuss what happened.”
She received $ 10,000 in compensation, which helped her pay her bills and gave her a sense of justice.
A Calgary family, which CBC does not identify, had less success in its application.
A woman says her daughter was 16 when she and another teenage friend were sexually assaulted by a man working in a restaurant.
Parents paid tens of thousands of dollars in therapy to help the young woman, now 20, cope with the attack.
The victim and her parents skipped school and work, losing income to meet with police investigators and attend court dates. They paid for gas and parking.
The mother said when she asked for compensation from the fund they were turned down and said the fund was changing.
“It’s awful,” the mother said. “It’s traumatic.”
Surcharges imposed by violators fill the coffers of the funds
At the last count, March 31, 2021, there was $ 63.6 million in the Alberta Crime Victims and Public Safety Fund.
The money comes from surcharges that offenders pay when they are fined in court. It is not tax revenue.
For years the Alberta auditor has said the government has no clear goals for the fund.
In 2020, the legislator passed a law to expand the possible uses of the fund. In addition to victim benefits and grants to aid organizations, the government is now using the fund to pay for drug treatment courts, police initiatives and hire more crown attorneys.
When the changes were announced, advocates warned the victims would be cheated.
The government also increased the victim surcharge from 15% to 20% to increase revenue. It didn’t work – the fund was $ 22 million below its target in 2020-21.
Although the government increased the amount of money it spent from the fund last year, the amount allocated to victims’ allowances fell 28 percent from the previous year, and spending on grants fell. by 21 percent.
Over 40 percent of the fund has gone to public safety initiatives, not victims.
The Calgary woman whose daughter was assaulted is furious that the fund is being misappropriated.
“I am incredibly disappointed that our provincial government is cheating on victims.”
In an email Friday, Department of Justice spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said victims said it previously took too long to get benefits.
She did not explain why there is a 45-day limit to apply, but said victims can apply for an exemption.
Gaps in services have also prompted the government to work together on a new way to compensate victims.
Two UCP MPs were tasked with leading a task force at the end of 2020, and the government planned to introduce a new program last year.
“It is essential that victims have access to the support they need most, which is why it is important to take the time to ensure that we identify the changes necessary to successfully provide support and assistance to victims. “said Thompson.
Information on the new model is expected to be released early this year, she said.
Janis Irwin, NDP MP and spokesperson for women and 2SLGBTQ +, said the government must lift strict limits on the program and release the task force report.
The changes have punitive effects on survivors who are already in pain, she said.
“How can you stand up and say you support women and support women when you do cuts like this?” ” she said.