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Province gives Alberta sexual assault centres $4M after $14M plea

Click to play video: 'Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates'
Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates
WATCH: Frustrations are mounting for groups who support sexual assault survivors and women fleeing domestic violence. They say the 2023 Alberta budget lacks support and is demoralizing. – Mar 3, 2023

After advocates said sexual assault centres needed at least $14 million to respond to the spike in demand, the government of Alberta announced it would provide $4.2 million.

In an April 6 news release, the province said a $3.8-million investment will help address wait-lists at 13 sexual assault centres across Alberta.

Another $400,000 will be used to expand “a new service model to provide survivors who are waiting for services with resources, supports and information to address their individual needs and situation,” the government news release said.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) has been asking the provincial government for funding to help meet the rising demand. AASAS represents 15 sexual assault centres across the province.

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However, advocates and centre officials said the lack of support for survivors in the February provincial budget was “demoralizing.”

“The budget very clearly left us with zero additional funding,” said Mary Jane James, CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE).

She said the waitlist for trauma counselling at the centre continues to grow and was already at 15-16 months in March.

Click to play video: 'Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates'
Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates

Tanya Fir, UCP MLA and parliamentary secretary for Status of Women, said she’s met with the organizations involved.

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“I am glad to see that this funding is being used to address the immediate concerns of counselling wait lists. It is critical that when somebody reaches out, help is available. Our government’s response to this concern is ensuring that sexual assault survivors across the province can get the support they need and deserve.”

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“I am grateful for the advocacy from every organization that is receiving this funding, as well as the hard work done by the parliamentary secretary, ensuring their voices are heard,” said Jeremy Nixon, minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services. “Our province cannot go without these resources, as more individuals are reaching out for help.”

“The funding being made available to SACE will have a significant impact on our lengthy counselling wait list, giving hope to survivors that their healing journey is important to this government,” James said as part of the April 6 news release.

“The government of Alberta has shown that they are committed to addressing the challenges we are facing,” she said.

In the spring of last year, AASAS presented data and a business case to the provincial government “for enhanced and ongoing funding to support survivors of sexual violence in Alberta.” The funding would be used to decrease the counselling wait lists, address the complex needs of survivors, help them access justice and school and for community-based prevention programs.

In response, the Alberta government said, after meeting with the AASAS, it offered $4.2 million, which it says “was rejected.”

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James said the province is mischaracterizing what happened, that attempts to contact the province were not returned and “never once was it indicated this was the final offer.”

James added the proposed one-time funding would not solve the wait-list issues, “nor will it address the critical importance of prevention services and education.”

James reiterated in March that groups were asking for $14 million in “sustainable funding.”

Click to play video: 'Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton needs more funding to address long wait times'
Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton needs more funding to address long wait times

“For sexual assault services, Alberta’s government is providing $17.1 million in 2023-24, which is a 25 per cent increase over the past five years,” Hunter Baril, spokesperson for the Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services, said in an email to Global News on March 2. “We will continue to work hard to ensure survivors can access the supports they need.”

That $17.1 million, James said, allows for current services to continue, “but there will be no additional money to hire any more staff and those staff members are particularly needed in our counselling department.”

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The province said since 2021, it has expanded government-funded sexual assault services in Hinton, Edson, Jasper, Yellowhead County and Grande Cache, Wabasca, Smoky Lake and Metis Settlements and First Nations.

Included in the $3.8-million investment are the following grants:

  • $140,170 to the Association of Communities Against Abuse, Stettler
  • $630,770 to Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse Society, Calgary
  • $96,170 to Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre, Red Deer
  • $52,170 to Dragonfly Counselling and Support Centre, Bonnyville
  • $23,570 to Hinton Friendship Centre Society, Hinton
  • $219,370 to Lloydminster Sexual Assault and Information Centre, Lloydminster
  • $120,370 to Providing Assistance, Counselling, Education (PACE), Grande Prairie
  • $166,570 to SAFFRON Centre Ltd., Sherwood Park
  • $1,853,960 to the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton
  • $96,170 to Sanare Centre (Southeastern Alberta Sexual Assault Response Committee), Medicine Hat
  • $148,970 to Waypoints Community Services Association, Fort McMurray
  • $41,170 to the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, Edmonton
  • $210,570 to Lethbridge Family Services

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