The manager of Heartland Victim Services and her assistant attended the Town of Stettler council meeting on Sept. 6.
Sheila Gongaware, the Heartland Victim Services director, and Judith Klapak, her assitant and former advocate, attended the meeting to provide an update on what the services that Victim Services provides.
According to Gongaware, the role of Victim Services advocates is to serve as connector for victims of crime and tragedy to support systems, to the court systems, to social supports and to anything else that is needed.
“We are by victims from the first court appearance right to the end,” said Gongaware.
Victim Services advocates can be called out at any time of day, any day of the week.
“Lots of times, these calls come at three in the morning.”
Where it comes to court preparation, advocates will prep a client with what to expect in the court room, accompany them as a support person into the courthouse and remain with them as long as it takes.
“We’re there to be a listening ear.”
On scene calls, advocates are there to help the survivors and family members of people who completed suicide, been murdered or faced another sudden death of a loved one.
However, Victim Services as it currently exists will be changing.
According to Gongaware, the provincial government has recently conducted a review of Victim Services and announced changes to be implemented by 2024.
Victim Services is currently operated by 62 volunteer boards across the province which have been given notice to dissolve by Mar. 31, 2024, to be replaced by four administrative zones.
The directors of each Victim Services unit have been told they will be laid off, but welcome to reapply for any available positions.
Each zone will be overseen by a coordinator, who is not expected to be in place for four to six months.
One significant change noted by Gongaware and corroborated in a Recommendations on Victim Services report to government available on the Government of Alberta website is the new outline will remove response to tragedy from their purview.
“There will be no tragedy files.”
Gongaware notes that for the most part the information presented is proposed and that significantly more information will be forthcoming, particularly once the zone coordinator is hired.
Coun. Gord Lawlor was blunt with his opinion of the proposed changes.
“What they’ve presented so far disgusts me,” said Lawlor.
“Victim Services is an essential service. The needs around the province are very,very different. It just offends me.”
Mayor Sean Nolls acknowledged the importance of Victim Services and the help with the mental burden people suffer from tragedy.
“Nobody knows you guys are there unless you are needed,” Nolls said.
“Trauma isn’t just from criminal acts.”
Nolls recommends anyone with concerns about the proposed update to reach out to the local MLA, Nate Horner, as these changes will affect everyone.
In a separate interview, Nolls noted he is concerned that the changes could turn Victim Services into a Monday to Friday, 8 a.m to 5 p.m. type service, something that can’t happen.
“It’s important that it remains accessible,” said Nolls.
“It makes me a little sick to my stomach. Crisis doesn’t have a budget, it only has people.”
More announcements regarding the proposed changes are expected in the coming months from the province.