Ottawa

Rape crisis centres call on attorney general to reverse cuts

A network of sexual assault and rape crisis centres across Ontario is demanding Ontario's attorney general reverse recent changes to victim compensation services.

Ontario's revamped compensation program unavailable to victims of historical sexual crimes

The #MeToo movement has prompted more survivors to come forward and seek therapy, and that demands a 'significant increase in funding for sexual assault centres,' according to the executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

A network of sexual assault and rape crisis centres across Ontario is demanding Ontario's attorney general reverse recent changes to victim compensation services.

According to the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, survivors of historical sexual abuse are now unable to access the trauma therapy they need.

"We've been communicating with government and asking them to review this," said Nicole Pietsch, an advocate with the coalition. 

"Ideally, changes like this would have happened in consultation with experts and community-based workers working on the ground with victims of sexual crimes. In this case, we don't think that happened."

While there were consultation sessions held last summer, Pietsch said the changes don't reflect what staff from sexual assault centres told bureaucrats at the time.

Attorney General Doug Downey said his government had reformed outdated provincial programs and is putting 'resources in [survivors'] hands immediately, at every turn.' (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Earlier this fall, the province phased out the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which helped assault victims access services including psychotherapy.

The new system, called the Victim Quick Response Program + (VQRP+), isn't available to victims of historical crimes. 

Under this program, brought in Oct. 1, an applicant must have visited a "victim service agency" within six months of the crime against them, or within six months of disclosing that crime to authorities.  

According to a recent statement from the Ministry of the Attorney General, the compensation system has been "enhanced" to better meet the immediate needs of victims following a violent crime. 

But Brea Hutchinson, executive director of Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, takes issue with that.

"It's totally a cost-cutting measure. They didn't solve any problems with this program. They saved a lot of money, they didn't enhance it," Hutchinson said.

Anxiety, confusion

The cuts have caused a lot of anxiety and confusion among survivors of childhood abuse who no longer qualify for therapy, according to Ally Crockford, executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.

"To have ... this kind of support snatched away from you, it's effectively somebody saying you don't matter," Crockford said.

"It's really counterintuitive and contrary to what we would like to be telling victims."

The Ontario government has cut programs that gave victims of violent crime and sexual abuse access to counselling services. Now those who assist victims are worried about the effects of this and are calling on the government to rethink this decision. 8:38

The #MeToo movement has prompted more survivors to come forward and seek therapy, and that demands a "significant increase in funding for sexual assault centres," Crockford said.

She and her counterparts across the province are trying to get the attention of the Ontario government, including Attorney General Doug Downey. So far no meetings have been scheduled.

Ally Crockford, executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, says the cuts to Ontario's victim compensation programs have caused anxiety and confusion among survivors of sexual abuse. (Darren Major/CBC)

"This is a pattern that we're seeing with respect to this government and the decisions that it's making for survivors," Crockford said.

"They overturned money to sexual assault centres and offered a much smaller one-off pot of money instead, and now they've gone and cut this program that survivors — the most vulnerable survivors — were so reliant on."

New Democrat MPP Jill Andrews is also calling for action. 

The representative for Toronto–St. Paul's recently stood up in the Ontario Legislature and called on the government to "do the right thing and reverse course" when it came to cuts to victim compensation. 

The attorney general defended the changes, saying his government had reformed outdated programs and is putting "resources in [survivors'] hands immediately, at every turn."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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