Over the past three decades, concern has grown in Canada for the rights and needs of victims of crime. It was recognized that more needed to be done to address the needs of victims of crime, tragic circumstance and/or disaster.
In Ontario, the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) was established as a pilot project in 1987 by the Ministry of the Solicitor General. Funding was coordinated by the Ontario women’s Directorate through the Ontario Government’s Joint Family Violence Initiative to demonstrate its commitment to victims.
The pilot project was a police-community based program using specially trained volunteers to deliver victim services, providing short term crisis intervention. The pilot project was launched in three communities: The Brant and Frontenac Counties and the Southern Algoma District. The sites chosen were very diverse in their geographical and social service structure but similar in population. They represented the Eastern, Western and Northern Regions of the Province of Ontario.
The pilot project was four years in duration, with flexibility built in for start-up time and evaluation. VCARS was designed to serve the immediate crisis needs of any victim who came into contact with the police and who the attending officer determined could benefit from the services. It was anticipated that the services would focus on victims of crimes which have a significant impact on individuals. As expected, a large number of the clients have been women who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The Victim’s Bill of Rights, proclaimed in June of 1996, acknowledged and responded to the needs of victims of crime. A victim surcharge began to be applied to Provincial and Federal fines to create a special fund to assist victims. The Victim Fine Surcharge now funds programs such as VCARS, Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP), and the Victim Support Line through the Ministry of the Attorney General. To date there are 60 victim services sites located in Ontario.
The VCARS pilot project was seen to have had considerable impact in a number of areas. Most significantly, it demonstrated that multiple police jurisdictions can be serviced by a central community-based location. It has also shown that victim services can be provided primarily through the contribution of volunteers.
These two factors provided ample evidence that appropriate models for victim services can be developed within reasonable resource boundaries, and within the parameters of a community policing philosophy.
The comprehensive review and evaluation of the VCARS program indicates that the model has proven capable of significantly reducing the trauma and consequences of victimization. Secondary victimization of individuals by the criminal justice system has been reduced as the support and skills required by victims to handle these circumstances have been enhanced.
Closer to home, Sudbury & Area Victim Services was incorporated on November 8th, 2002. An Executive Director and Administrative Assistant were hired and they set up office at the O.P.P station in Sudbury on December 9th, 2002. On January 13th, 2003 the Steering Committee was officially replaced by a Board of Directors. The Sudbury program was launched on February 10th 2003, and the first group of volunteers attended training in March. Sudbury & Area Victim Services began offering assistance to victims in April of 2003.
The program has grown over the past 20 years changing its name from Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) to its current name of Sudbury & Area Victim Services (SAVS). This was done in order to alleviate confusion and help community members too easily identify the appropriate service within their area. SAVS is now located at 190 Brady Street, and remains an independent, non-profit organization.