Rural Albertans continue to contend with an escalated rate of crime. The issues are complex, and the UCP’s rural crime report addresses a variety of them and makes recommendations. One is to fix problems with Alberta’s Victims of Crime Fund and take advantage of the opportunity it presents to improve the situations of crime victims in Alberta.
Back in 2016, the Auditor General identified various concerns with the Victims of Crime Fund, in particular that it has tens of millions of dollars in surplus that is not making its way to victims. Since then, the fund’s accumulated surplus has continued to grow and upwards of $70 million sits unused. The money cannot be used for expanded services without approval from Alberta’s department of Justice.
The fund is primarily financed by a surcharge collected from provincial fines and some federal convictions, and it provides financial benefits to psychologically and/or physically injured victims of violent crime. In addition, the fund provides grant funding to police-based victim services units and specialized community-based assistance programs that help victims during their involvement with the criminal justice system.
These organizations are found all across the province and do invaluable work. Airdrie and area residents are fortunate to have the services of the Airdrie & District Victim Assistance Society. Trained advocates (often volunteers) work on the front lines, assisting victims and their families in high stress situations in an effort to alleviate the tragic impact of the crime. They are available by phone, make visits to a victim’s home, and accompany victims and witnesses to court.
I have asked multiple times and more recently just this last April, I followed up directly with the Minister of Justice about the fund’s surplus and inquired what will be done with it, and I was told to expect news in the near future. Two and a half years since the Auditor General’s report and half a year since my follow-up, Albertans are still waiting for action. I have recently learned of at least two victim services organizations that expect their doors to close by the New Year.
It is time for the provincial government to finish their seemingly endless review of this Fund and put it to good use. There is currently a funding cap for victim services units that could be raised or lifted. Another serious option to consider is to extend services or benefits to victims of property crime, which accounts for most of the recent increase in rural crime.
Lastly, something that unfortunately needs to be said: The NDP have desperately been pushing a patently absurd narrative that the UCP voted against funding to address the rural crime crisis. Using that logic, the NDP is against funding our healthcare and education systems because they voted against the government’s budget while in opposition themselves.
All Albertans deserve to be safe in their own homes. I hope that the NDP government will recognize the significant toll that crime is taking on Alberta families and not brush off the UCP’s recommendations for political reasons, which is what they appear to be doing.
Angela Pitt is the MLA for Airdrie. The UCP’s full list of recommendations can be viewed at: http://www.ucpcaucus.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rural-Crime-Report-FINAL.pdf