By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Lethbridge Corridor Victim Services may soon be forced to reduce the scope of services offered to clients.
As part of a delegation from before Coaldale council, representatives from Lethbridge Corridor Victim Services (LCVS) shared some of the organization’s concerns with the proposed changes being made to the current model of Victim Services in Alberta by the Solicitor General’s office.
The changes are expected to be implemented by spring 2023 and will impact the 73 victim services units in the province. According to information presented to council, the new proposed program will result in the dissolution of 62 boards which currently make up the rural victim services by March 31, 2023. LCVS’s service area includes Lethbridge to Taber and Coutts to Picture Butte.
Mindi Forsyth, who appeared before council for LCVS said, “the current model has allowed for a lot of flexibility. We are able to serve files dealing with suicide, sudden death, emergency protection orders, Clare’s Law and car accidents.”
The LCVS unit has historically been able to follow up and provide information and complete safety planning, emotional support, provide referrals to additional services, and fill out associated paperwork including for court support. “From what I understand, that is not something that is going to be offered in the new program and new positions and I think that is a big gap and something that will change,” said Forsyth.
“Really the key to the services we are allowed to provide now is the individualized person-to-person support, especially with what we know about people who are experiencing crisis or trauma. (Their) executive function skills (such as memory, planning prioritization, decision making) are impaired.”
LCVS statistics from 2022 to Sept. 26, document all files within their coverage area, 6,000 in 2022, to date. Of these, 4,679, or 80 per cent, of these files are Coaldale-based.
“We do provide a lot of support to Coaldale specifically,” said Forsyth, noting the LCVS file numbers differ from the RCMP’s records based on the accused. The LCVS unit files would reflect 10 files if one person was accused in 10 separate incidents, whereas the RCMP files would reflect one file with 10 separate incident notes.
While the new proposed model will create four regional boards, provide more cohesive professional standards across the province, and will reallocate administrative tasks to board members, giving support staff more time to support victims, LCVS volunteers and support staff are concerned about how the new model may impact their overall scope of services.
LCVS staff are currently able to issue Emergency Protection orders, conduct safety planning, and help victims get to shelters, but, “under the new program this would not be possible,” said Forsyth during the delegation.“We wouldn’t be involved until charges are actually laid.” Coaldale council were told the new model will only allow for the support of victims of crime and would exclude victims of sudden deaths, suicide car accidents, and other traumatic events.
There are currently 369 open files, of which, 117 would not meet the eligibility requirements under the new model. The proposed changes would also eliminate LCVS’ ability to offer specialized programs, including in some domestic violence cases where charges are not pressed until several police calls have been made. LCVS also offers specialized services, including a facility dog program. Forsyth said no information on how, or if the changes will impact the dog program, has been discussed with LCVS staff. The program is “very important, especially for children and youth going through the court system.” Earlier this year, Madison the service dog, and her handler, Adonus Arlett were recipients of a national award, the Commissioners Commendation for Outstanding Service for their dedication and commitment to Lethbridge Corridor Victim Services (LCVS). A service which LCVS manager Arlett said has had a “profound impact” on many victims.
The question posed to council was “if victim services can’t provide these specialized programs, who in the Coaldale area will be able to do those kinds of things?”
According to Mayor Jack Van Rijn, council met with the RCMP’s K Division at the recent Alberta Municipalities convention (AbMunis) and discussed Victim Services and how the proposed changes would affect Coaldale.
“The comment that was returned was that if everything was going well in Coaldale, nothing was going to change and then the only thing he told me was that as part of the process everyone in Coaldale is going to have to reapply for their job,” said Van Rijn.
“I think based on the information we have been given, it does sound like a lot is going to be changing, especially with what we in Coaldale do for our clients,” said Forsyth.
“We had no notice of them changing it,” and said LCVS volunteers and staff did not know about the proposed changes until it went up online. Forsyth said this announcement was followed by a province-wide meeting but “no one has come to talk to us specifically since the recommendations have come out.”
Coun. Chapman said of the RCMP, his impression was “at the highest levels, their interpretations of the new program will help those municipalities where their coverage is lacking (volunteers and personnel) to be able to parachute people into those roles where there are shortages.”
At the time of the meeting, the RCMP Staff Sergeant was still gathering information before sitting down with council to provide them with a better idea of the impact on LCVS. As of Friday, Oct. 7, Arlett told SSN no new information or updates have been made available and encouraged concerned residents to appeal to their MLAs to push for more clarity on how the changes will impact Victim Services across the province.