A victim services group is concerned that proposed legislation could allow the Alberta government to raid a fund meant to help those hurt by crime.
The United Conservative government introduced a bill last week that would expand the scope of the Victims of Crime Fund to include specialized police teams, drug treatment courts and the hiring of more Crown prosecutors.
“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,” the Alberta Police Based Victim Services Association said in a release.
“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.”
Fund has multimillion-dollar surplus
Money for the fund comes from provincial fine surcharges and is meant to help crime victims through financial relief and support programs. The victim services group said the fund has been managed so well that it has a multimillion-dollar surplus with no taxpayer money.
It believes the fund should remain focused on aiding crime victims and worries that opening it up to other programs could put that work in jeopardy.
The province also raised the victim fine surcharge in April from 15 to 20 per cent, increasing the fund’s annual budget from $40 million to $60 million a year.
“The government is expanding the scope of the Victims of Crime Fund to fund initiatives that help prevent victimization while still providing the support victims need when they need it,” Alberta Justice spokeswoman Ina Lucila said in a statement Tuesday.
“This is not an either/or debate. It is about how we can best support victims and keep Albertans safe.”
She added the government has appointed a working group to study how the fund can better deliver benefits to crime victims.
‘Can more be done for victims? Absolutely’
A 2016 report by the province’s auditor general urged Alberta Justice to find “an appropriate and productive use” for the fund’s ever-growing surplus and define victims’ needs and any gaps in service.
Alf Rudd, president of the victim services association, said the fund has managed to rack up a surplus of $74 million.
Rudd said his organization, a non-profit that represents more than 70 victim service programs across Alberta, would be willing to discuss ways to put the fund’s extra money to use, rather than divert it to initiatives that should be taxpayer funded.
“Can more be done for victims? Absolutely — and there’s money there to do that,” said Rudd, a former police chief in Taber, Alta.
“We’ve got 30 years of wisdom that we can apply here and it seems that we’ve let a little bit of that slip away in the decision.
“Victims services can work with the government to come up with a better plan to serve victims in the province rather than just co-opt that money into some other purpose.”