Victim Services Units Funding
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the AUMA lobby the Government of Alberta to use the monies from the Victims of Crime Fund to adequately fund provincial victim services units so they can provide the staffing levels required to assist victims of crime.
WHEREAS the Report of the Auditor General of Alberta, dated February 2016, provides information regarding the lack of a plan to appropriately and productively use the growing accumulated surplus of the Victims of Crime Fund to best meet the needs of Albertans as intended by the Victims of Crime Act;
WHEREAS provincial victim services units are established to provide support programs for individuals who have suffered as a result of violent crimes;
WHEREAS victim services units must request additional funding from the rural municipalities in their borders to subsidize the amount received from the Government of Alberta; and
WHEREAS volunteers, while widely used and appreciated, are not able to provide the level and scope of service that victims need at all times of the day or night.
Victims’ services units annually request funding from municipalities to subsidize the inadequate funding they have received from the Government of Alberta. The funding received does not adequately supply the services that are needed in our municipalities. Municipal funding is provided out of necessity, as the municipalities do not want to see the services lost to the region.
See following excerpts from the Report of the Auditor General of Alberta/February 2016:
Justice and Solicitor General – Victims of Crime Fund – Systems to Manage Sustainability and Assess Results
Victims of crime come from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. Crime victims are not only from vulnerable populations, they live in every neighbourhood and can be any age, gender and ethnicity. The Victims of Crime Fund (VCOF) provides funding for financial benefits paid to eligible victims of violent crime for physical and/or emotional injuries suffered. It also provides grant funding primarily to police-based Victim Services Units (VSUs) and specialized community-based assistance programs, to deliver programs that benefit victims during their involvement with the criminal justice process, as legislated under the Victims of Crime Act.
The department and VOCF program have adequate systems and processes to manage the day-to-day administration of the fund. However, the department is not completing the necessary strategic planning, analysis and reporting to establish desired results, and the resources necessary to achieve those results.
There is also no plan how to appropriately and productively use the fund’s growing accumulated surplus to best meet the needs of Albertans as intended by the Act. The government’s and department’s current budget process treats the fund like any other generally funded program even though it is self-financing and has its own independent funding source. Business and budgeting practices are potentially restricting operating decisions intended to better serve the victims of crime.
WHAT WE FOUND
The department has not completed the necessary analysis and forecasting of the financial resources required to achieve the desired results set out in the Victims of Crime Act. The department cannot presently answer the question: Are the resources currently available adequate and being used appropriately to deliver the desired result of accessible, appropriate and timely services to victims in accordance with the legislation?
The fund is growing at a rate faster than payments to victims are being made. The government’s and department’s current budget process, which is applied to the fund, is not designed to assess or consider its unique funding source, the changing needs of victims or increased fine surcharge revenue inflows. Because of this disconnect, and with revenue trending higher, the fund’s accumulated surplus continues to grow and these excess funds are sitting unused, without the department having a clear plan for intended future use. Underlying this is the lack of an achievable, budgeted and approved plan to guide the priorities and direction of the fund.
VOCF program management has drafted planning documents to set the priorities and guide the direction of the fund. The documents outline how the program can become more accessible, appropriate and timely, and be more responsive to victims’ needs. Additional funding would be required to fully implement these objectives. However, the program does not have the ability to access the surplus funds to maintain and expand services to victims without approval from the department.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
The department needs to develop a plan that:
- Clearly identifies what the actual current needs of the victim of crime population are and are forecasted to be;
- Identifies gaps in service;
- Shows how much funding will be required to meet these needs and what the impact on Albertans will be if it is not made available; and
- Can be monitored and measured for success, with the results publicly reported.
The department also needs to determine an appropriate and productive use of the VOCF’s accumulated surplus, which is supported by a proper financial analysis, as a necessary starting point to facilitate discussion with the Department of Treasury Board and Finance to show the impact current budgetary and business policies have on potential uses of the fund’s surplus and victims of crime.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ALBERTANS
The Victims of Crime Act creates the VOCF to provide financial benefits and fund support programs for individuals who have suffered as a result of violent crime. Victims of domestic violence, families of homicide victims, children who have been sexually abused and the elderly who have been physically harmed, are among the Albertans who receive benefits from the fund and support as their cases proceed through the judicial process. If the fund is not managed appropriately, there is a risk that victims of crime will not receive the assistance and financial benefits to which they are entitled under the law. Also, programs for victims of crime that are run by police-based VSUs and community organizations may not receive sufficient grant funding to deliver on the intent set out in the Victims of Crime Act.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Having a current strategy for the fund is important because demographics, population trends and demands on the fund can change, and they have changed over the 13 years since the crime consultation report was issued. For example, the fund provides grant funding to a number of police-based VSUs that are located across the province. When the original report was produced in 2002, there were only a few VSUs operating with several police jurisdictions, but as of 2014-2015 the number of VSUs receiving funding grew to 76.
Recommendation 6: Determine Best Use of Victims of Crime Fund Accumulated Surplus
We recommend that the Department of Justice and Solicitor General, supported by sufficient analysis, determine an appropriate use of the Victims of Crime Fund accumulated surplus.
Criteria: the standards for our audit
Funding should be available to provide financial benefits and services to eligible victims of crime. There should be processes to:
- Ensure that sufficient funding is available to meet anticipated long-term obligations (Crimes Compensation Board and Severe Injury liability);
- Assess the level of net assets that should be maintained for sustaining the fund; and
- Determine if a reserve fund should be retained and, if so, of what magnitude.
USE OF FUND
The minister may, in accordance with this Act and the regulations, make payments from the fund
- for grants relating to programs that benefit victims of crime;
(a.01) without limiting the generality of clause (a), for grants relating to programs that provide counselling to children who are victims of sexual exploitation or other criminal offences causing physical or mental harm;
(a.1) for programs that benefit victims of crime;
(b) for costs incurred by the Committee and the Review Board in carrying out their duties under this Act;
(c) for remuneration and expenses payable to the members of the Committee and the Review Board;
(d) for financial benefits payable pursuant to sections 13, 15 and 19(2);
(d.1) for death benefits payable pursuant to section 13.01;
(e) to pay costs of administering this Act.
RSA 20200 cV-3 s10;2001 c15 s5;2006 c23 s81;
2011 c15 s9;2013 cC-12.5 s22
The response from the Minister stated that “work is underway…to ensure that a broader plan is developed to stabilize funding and enhance service delivery”. ABMunis rejected this response.
In May 2020, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Grande Prairie MLA Nathan Neudorf were appointed as co-chairs of a working group that is reviewing the financial benefits program of the Victims of Crime Fund and consulting on the creation of a new victim's assistance model. ABMunis provided feedback for this consultation.
In June 2020, the province passed Bill 16, the Victims of Crime (Strengthening Public Safety) Amendment Act. This bill expands the scope of the Victims of Crime Fund to include public safety initiatives that deter crime and reduce victimization, such as Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defense Force, drug treatment courts, and hiring more Crown prosecutors. Alberta is now the only province that does not restrict the use of its Victims of Crime fund to services that support victims. As a result, ABMunis sent a letter to the Minister outlining our concerns with Bill 16.
In July 2021, ABMunis partnered with the Alberta Police Based Victim Services Association to launch an MLA letter writing campaign. The campaign called on the Government of Alberta to reverse its recent changes to the Victims of Crime Fund and provide ongoing, sustainable funding to victim services programs.