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UCP proposal to use part of victims fund for policing and prosecution is a conflict, critics say

The UCP government is taking money away from victims to fund policing initiatives in the province, say opponents of the proposed legislation changes who have called the move unethical and a "ploy."

Former police chief says fund was 'prudent and judicious,' building up $74M surplus

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer's Bill 16 would allow the government to use the Victims of Crime Fund to pay for police and prosecutors. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's UCP government is taking money away from victims to fund policing initiatives in the province, a move opponents of the proposed legislation changes have called unethical and a "ploy."

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer proposed changes to the Victims of Crime Act and Fund that would allow the government to dip into money meant to support those affected by crime.

"We really feel that someone's peeked over the fence and saw it and thought 'well, I could use that,'" said Alf Rudd.

Rudd is a former police chief in two different Alberta jurisdictions and the president of the Alberta Police-Based Victim Services Association, which represents 70 programs across the province. 

When someone is the victim of a crime, emotional, financial and physical supports, like hotels, are available to them through victims services units across the province.

'It's a conflict'

Rudd says victims services has been "prudent and judicious" for years, building up a surplus of $74 million. 

Money for the fund comes from provincial fine surcharges imposed following convictions with an objective to help crime victims through financial relief and support programs. 

Aside from the Rudd's concerns, defence lawyer Deborah Hatch says there are also ethical concerns surrounding the proposed changes to the legislation. 

"It is a conflict. It seems to create a financial incentive — or at least the appearance that there is a financial benefit to the prosecution and to the police — to make sure that cases end in convictions," says Hatch.

Key prong in justice system 

The former president of Alberta's Criminal Trial Lawyers Association says it's also not fair to fund two prongs of the justice system: police and prosecutors while adding nothing to Legal Aid.

"If you're going to have a democratic system and a fair system of justice, then you're going to fund all parts of it relatively equally and fairly," says Hatch. 

"And when you see one part of the justice system or two parts of it becoming quite strong and to the exclusion of the other, that is not good for any fair society."

In an interview with CBC News last week, Schweitzer said the changes were being proposed after 2019's rural crime consultations. 

UCP proposal a 'ploy' 

But Alf Rudd says on at least one occasion, a member was denied entry to one of those meetings after identifying herself as working for a victims services organization.

A press release signed by Rudd and other heads of victim support organizations suggested the UCP was raiding the fund meant for victims.

"Victims are central in the criminal justice system; a ploy such as this does a great disservice to them," the release says.

The justice minister did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

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.

"They're saying we're not pulling anything back, we're spending more money," says Rudd. "Well, now we know where it's going."

Phase 2 'canned'

Rudd says he's already seen victim services operating and training budgets reduced in some jurisdictions.

In 2016, the auditor general urged Alberta Justice to deal with the fund's surplus by finding any gaps in service and finding appropriate uses for the money.

Rudd says victims services organizations had already completed Phase 1 of that mandate by increasing funding to large urban centres and was about to enter Phase 2, which would have seen more resources going to rural units. 

"We were really excited about Phase 2, but now that's been canned," says Rudd.

Alberta model 'the envy of Canada'

Alberta's victim services programming is unlike any other province. Rudd says no matter what community a victim is in, services are available 24/7.

"We've got a model here in Alberta that's the envy of Canada, doesn't go on anywhere else," says Rudd. In many other provinces, victim services is tied in through the courts. 

In Airdrie, Alta., for example, there are 4,000 victim services cases are opened every year. 

"Alberta was way, way ahead of the game for going on 30 years and they need to be proud of that and now we've got money to sustain it."

"In the current atmosphere, it's not the time for governments to be taking money away from victims."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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