UCP bill proposes changes Victims of Crime Act to fund police, prosecutors
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer to introduce Bill 16 in Legislature Thursday
Alberta's justice minister will introduce a bill Thursday which would see the Victims of Crime Fund broadened to include funding public safety initiatives.
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says the proposed changes follow months of consultation with communities — particularly in rural Alberta.
The idea is for previously announced initiatives like the hiring of 50 new prosecutors, increased funding for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), and the creation of the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence (RAPID) Force to be funded through the changes.
The minister says the UCP plans to pull back on financial benefits paid to victims of crime, though until a new victims assistance model is launched, the government will try to help those with immediate and out-of-pocket needs resulting from violent crimes.
'They don't want cases to be dropped'
Schweitzer says during his 2019 rural crime tour, he heard from people who are concerned about their cases not making it to trial.
"They wanted their cases to be heard, to go through a trial process, they don't want cases to be dropped because of capacity," said Schweitzer.
"They also wanted to ensure that law enforcement had the tools that they needed to investigate crimes particularly as it relates to property crimes."
On April 1, Alberta's victim fine surcharge — a fine paid by people convicted of crimes — increased from 15 to 20 per cent, which will help increase the Victims of Crime Fund from $40- to $60-million per year.
Homicide benefit eliminated
The plan, says Schweitzer, is to "wind down" the Criminal Injury Review Board. Over the coming months, two UCP MLAs, Angela Pitt and Tracy Allard, will co-chair a working group to make changes to the financial benefit program.
The government plans to get rid of its current injury benefit as well as the witness to homicide benefit, a one-time payment of $5,000 to people who witness the killing of a loved one.
Instead, financial benefits to victims of crime have been "narrowed" to people who have experienced severe crimes, says Schweitzer
"We're pulling back a little bit in the interim until we get the feedback from Angela Pitt and Tracy Allard," he said.
"We wanted to make sure we had coverage for those who have been victimized the most in the interim and then waiting for feedback from the group to allow us to have a road map for the long term."
In the meantime, the interim victims assistance program will provide help with things like out-of-pocket expenses resulting from violent crime, and emergency transportation.
The program will also help speed up access to counselling and provide court support to victims and witnesses.
If passed, the Victims of Crime Act will be renamed the Victims of Crime and Public Safety Act.
A new victims assistance model will be launched in 2021.