By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On May 18, Horizons Victims Services will hold a Community Evening in Support of Victims and Survivors of Crime and Tragedy at the Taber Public Library beginning at 7 p.m.
“Our event is held to inform the public of the plight of victims and the work of the Victim Service Unit in Taber,” Alf Rudd, program manager for Horizons Victim Service Unit, said. “We present on current work, have our advocates talk about their experiences and have actual clients of ours who were victimized present.”
The third week of May, Rudd says, is designated nationally as the week of crime and survivors and the Horizons Victims Service Unit last organized this event prior to COVID lockdowns with the help of collaborating organizations.
“We had about 40 persons attend, those attending were intrigued hearing for the first time that such an organization existed,” Rudd said.
“Part of the mandate is public education. We support as presenters at a variety of community events to raise awareness. On-line is quite extensive and is supported by the Ministry from Edmonton – a valuable resource. The intensity of educating ramps up with individual clients who know very little of the law and support services. Responses to our satisfaction surveys consistently offer praise for the support received throughout an incident. We often hear back, “I did not know such an organization existed”.
At this current event, Rudd says, there will be individuals who have been recipients of Horizons’ services who will be present to tell their story. Clients, Rudd says, are referred to Horizons Victims Services by the police and must give permission to share their contact information. Rudd emphasizes that within Horizon Victims Services, confidentiality is paramount and indeed required by law.
“There is much sadness and anxiety that parks in your life when trauma/crime happens,” Rudd said. “We generally manage about 200 cases a year and we have cases that have been ongoing for over 5 years.”
Rudd says that there are great issues facing victims of crime and trauma including the fact that they have immediate needs, but provisions for immediate access to money from the Victim of Crime Fund takes too much time. Applications are sent into the central administration in Edmonton, specifically the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services, but are not responded to until there is staff working, with evenings and weekends not being covered.
Another challenge, Rudd says, is Recognition of Victims Rights is continually a challenge. There are procedures put in place to keep the victims informed, supported, and provided with proper referrals, Rudd says.
“The trauma piece has come to the fore in the past few years and how that differently affects each victim,” Rudd said. “It is a slow learn for the justice system to fully understand the ‘trauma mind’ and be tolerant.”
For example, Rudd says, a victim of a vicious assault may upon initial interview not present the entirety of facts. When things are clarified later, Rudd says, there is an assumption that recalled information is somehow tainted, when in fact it is the normal workings of the trauma mind. There are those that understand it and those that don’t despite efforts to ensure the Justice system is properly trauma informed, Rudd says. Different recalls can open opportunities during a trial for the accused to defend on the basis that the facts have changed which affects the victim with further trauma, Rudd says.
“Trauma is a result of being a crime victim, but also arises in difficult personal circumstances, such as a sudden death in the family,” Rudd said. “When you are unsupported in these circumstances a trauma informed trained, security cleared advocate can help over the first hours of such bad news. Relationships of trust are built with advocates and clients as some interactions are ongoing for up to many years.”
Rudd says that Horizons Victims Services has been in existence for 30 years and in that time, he has seen great growth. Victims Services, Rudd says, started out as a concept and all volunteers and local boards were set up as not for profit societies (Alberta Societies Act). This, Rudd says, allowed for fund raising for operations. Eventually the Victims of Crime Act, now the Victims of Crime and Public Safety Act, came about, Rudd says, which set out a financial support mechanism whereby a portion of fines levied thru-out the myriad of Provincial Statues and Criminal Code offences that allow for the levying of fines. Rudd says that the established Victims of Crime Fund provided grants upon successful application to Victim Service units, from a start of about 20 units there are now 74 in Alberta, which facilitates a 24-7 response in every square foot of Alberta, whether police by municipal or RCMP forces.
“Our work is invaluable to the client, police, Crown and collaborative partners,” Rudd says. “It is personally satisfying to provide just what is needed at the right moment – we work on compassion. From the first call to the police and initial support VS stays with the individual through court, probations, jail sentences, parole matters and security matters. As people the advocates are at full buy-in and often there is the lasting respect for the relationships of one on one.”
Rudd says that there are many supports within the province of Alberta as well as throughout Canada that collaborate with the work that Horizons Victims Services does including the Victims of Crime and Community Safety Act, the Victims Bill of Rights nationally; a provincial Ministry ensuring that there are resources available, the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
“Victim Service is support, information and referrals,” Rudd said. “How do I get counselling, how do I pay this month’s rent, what do I do with my dog, my car, my family. I have no phone, I have no job, I have no family, I have no income – My World Just Fell Apart!!! Our motto is ‘We’re here’. We don’t have all the answers, but we can be resourceful for you, our Advocates have a myriad of contacts and knowledge.”