The Alberta government plans to expand the range of supports available to victims of crime starting this fall.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday that the changes, set to begin Sept. 1, aim to give additional help to victims of violence who face complex and unique problems.
Among the changes, victims needing help coping with a severe brain injury would be able to access up to $100,000 with ongoing supplemental benefits of $1,000 a month.
Victims of human trafficking would be eligible for up to $1,000 for temporary accommodation and up to $5,000 for relocation expenses.
Families of homicide victims can be reimbursed for funeral expenses up to $12,500.
Partners fleeing domestic violence can receive up to $1,000 for emergency travel expenses.
Up to $12,000 for counselling is to be made available immediately to those affected by serious Criminal Code offences, including for families of homicide victims and minors who witness domestic violence.
“Even with our best efforts, crime can happen anywhere and to anyone. And when it happens, it’s critical we have a system that’s in place here in Alberta which stands with victims every step along the way,” Shandro said at a news conference in Sylvan Lake, Alta.
“We know the previous financial benefits program was not quick enough and simply did not provide enough immediate support to those who are coping with trauma. And that was not acceptable.”
Shandro said the government also plans to streamline the victim services process over the next year.
Right now, services are administered by 62 governance boards and delivered through community-based organizations, such as sexual assault centres and police-based victims services unit.
The province plans to organize the system through four regional boards, matching RCMP administrative areas, and employ centralized support staff to make sure there is continuity and equality of help no matter where a person lives.
The province budgets about $63 million a year for victim services.
That fund is now to be solely dedicated to supports for victims of crime. Other public safety initiatives, such as drug treatment courts and Crown prosecutors, are to be funded through general revenues.
NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said the United Conservative government has delayed much-needed support.
“The decision by the UCP to reduce the application timeline from two years to 45 days left many Albertans without the necessary support this fund was designed to provide,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
“The UCP ended up reversing their initial decision causing years of harm to victims.”
He said the UCP “raided” the Victims of Crime Fund “to backfill their reckless cuts to the justice system.”
“According to the auditor general, this led to spending on victims’ benefits being cut in half and cuts to victims’ organizations. This money belongs to victims and should not be used for other purposes,” Sabir said.
He said the new program fails to restore funding and support for victims of crime who have been waiting for the change for the last two years.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press