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 and;
WHEREAS provincial victim services units are established to provide support programs for individuals who have suffered as a result of violent crimes; and
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;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) 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.
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 Northern Sunrise County, as well as other rural 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 or ethnicity. The Victims of Crime Fund (VOCF} 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 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:
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 within 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:
USE OF FUND
The minister may, in accordance with this Act and the regulations, make payments from the fund
(a) 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 the costs of administering this Act.
RSA 2000 cV-3 s10;2001 c15 s5;2006 c23 s81;
2011 c15 s9; 2013 cC-12.5 s22
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General understands the Rural Municipalities of Alberta concern regarding the management and usage of the Victims of Crime Fund. A 2016 Auditor General report outlined a need for strategic planning and measurable targets in order to appropriately and productively use the Victims of Crime Fund.
The ministry worked with the Alberta Police Based Victim Services Association to address gaps in services, and develop an strategic action plan to better support victims. In October, 2018, the Government of Alberta announced an additional $4.5 million in available money from the Victims of Crime Fund would go towards improving the scope and quality of programs for victims of crime in five key areas. The increase in available funding will go towards police-based victim services units, support for domestic violence survivors, help for victims in court, restorative justice initiatives and expanding outreach services for Indigenous victims.
The Government of Alberta response indicates action to divert greater amounts from the Victims of Crime Fund to support victim services units. More specifically, the Government of Alberta has increased the maximum annual funding that victim services units in Alberta’s large urban centers can access, as maximum amounts will increase from $300,000 to $500,000 in Edmonton and Calgary, and from $150,000 to $300,000 in Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (which had already been temporarily increased to $265,000 due to wildfires in 2016). While this is a positive development, the maximum annual funding amount for all other victim services units appears to have remained at $150,000. As some rural areas in Alberta are experiencing extremely high crime rates, and victim services unit funding is based on an allocation formula that takes into consideration local crime rates, RMA believes that the maximum potential annual funding amount should be increased for all victim services units to allow for consistent access to funding across the province, as crime rates do not necessarily align with population.
In December 2019, the Government of Alberta undertook a consultation on the replacement of the Victims of Crime Financial Benefits Program (VCFBP) with a new “Alberta Victim Assistance” program, which is intended to replace the financial support focus of the VCFBP with a program that is more service-oriented and effectively meets the needs of victims who may experience challenges in accessing legal, emotional, or other support services, including those in rural areas. RMA is awaiting the results of the review.
In June 2020, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 16, Victims of Crime (Strengthening Public Safety) Amendment Act. As of the writing of this response, Bill 16 is currently in second reading in the legislature. One change proposed through Bill 16 is to expand potential uses of the Victims of Crime Fund beyond programs and initiatives that support victims of crime to also include programs and initiatives that promote public safety. There is a significant risk that should Bill 16 pass, funding from the Victims of Crime Fund may be diverted from victims services units to support broader policing and public safety initiatives unrelated to victim support. The Alberta Police Based Victim Service Association issued the following statement concerning Bill 16:
Amendments to the Act [through Bill 16] will see the tearing down of the fundamental principles entrenched in the original Victims of Crime Act created in 1990.
The original Act collected a surcharge on fines assessed for various offences in Alberta, therefore, these are not tax dollars. Those funds were intended to support victim serving organizations in providing services direct to those who have suffered as victims of crime and or tragedy. The money supports a cohort of volunteers in every corner of Alberta to be there in times of crisis to support and assist when tragedy strikes.
Frugal use of those funds by community organized police based organizations results today in a $74M surplus. The surplus guarantees sustainable support for victims for many years and therefore no reliance on tax dollars, an achievement like none other in Canada. If this legislation is successful, the Solicitor General will arbitrarily have unfettered access to the fund to provide more police, more prosecutors and fund other undefined public safety initiatives. This amounts to a raid on a fund that for 30 years has carefully and prudently provided a safe landing for those criminally and brutally treated.
The Association is disturbed with the direction taken by this Minister in this legislation. Victims are central in the criminal justice system, a ploy such as this does a great disservice to them, and those dedicated to supporting them. Association members have already felt impacts of victim funds being redirected for public safety initiatives as requests for operating funds have been reduced and training dollars all but eliminated.
This is the wrong move for this province. Funds need to first address the needs of victim services while any expanded use be judiciously considered after consultations with the victim serving community.
Although still awaiting the results of the 2019 consultation on the replacement of the Victims of Crime Financial Benefits Program (VCFBP) with a new “Alberta Victim Assistance” program, RMA is concerned with the impacts that Bill 16 may have on victim services unit funding.
In fall 2020, the Government of Alberta consulted on further potential changes to the victims services delivery model, including potentially replacing the current model with a centralized, regional, or municipal service delivery model. RMA expressed concerns with these options, arguing that the current model allows for victim services to be developed based on unique local needs, and that the current model required improved funding and capacity support, rather than a complete overhaul. At this time, it is unknown whether the delivery model will change.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met, and will continue to advocate on this issue.