Over the past two decades, concern has grown in Canada for the rights and needs of the victims of crime. It has been recognized that more should be done to address the needs of victims of crime, tragic circumstance and disaster in the Province of Ontario.
To demonstrate this commitment to victim needs, Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (VCARS) was established as a pilot project in 1987 by the Ministry of the Solicitor General with funding coordinated by the Ontario Women's Directorate through the Ontario Government's Joint Family Violence Initiative.
The pilot was a police, community-based program using specially trained volunteer crisis responders to deliver the victim service, dealing exclusively with the short-term needs of the victim, and was framed on the crisis intervention model. The pilot project was launched in three sites: Brant and Frontenac Counties and Southern Algoma District. The sites chosen were very diverse in their geographical and social service structure but similar in population. They represented three different regions in Ontario, specifically in the eastern, western, and northern regions of the province.
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 individual who came into contact with the police and whom the attending director determined could benefit from the service. It was anticipated that the services would focus on victims of spousal assault and other crimes with significant impact; as expected, a large number of the victims have been women who are the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The VCARS pilot project had considerable impact in a number of areas. Perhaps most significantly, it demonstrated that multiple police jurisdictions could be serviced by a central community-based location. As well, it illustrated that victim services can be provided primarily by volunteers.
These two factors together provide ample evidence that appropriate models for victim services can be developed within reasonable resource boundaries, and within the parameters of community policing philosophy.
The comprehensive review of the VCARS evaluation indicates that the model has proven capable of significantly reducing the trauma and surrounding consequences of victimization. Moreover, the secondary victimization of individuals by the criminal justice system has been reduced as the skills required to handle these circumstances have been enhanced.
In early 1997, an information meeting was held at the North Bay City Police Headquarters to explain the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (VCARS) and to explore the possibility of seeking funding for the North Bay and surrounding areas. A Steering committee was established and submitted a proposal to establish VCARS in North Bay. The service area was vast in order to capture the population numbers that were needed to justify funding. It was determined after a number of meetings that expansion to Parry Sound would not happen for three to five years.
VCARS Near North did receive funding in early 1998, and an office was set up in the North Bay City Police Headquarters. In the spring of 1998, it was identified that implementation of a Parry Sound site could not wait. Letters of support urging VCARS Near North to move forward were secured from several agencies.
It is important, at this point, to list those who supported this initiative: The Parry Sound Police Services Board, Parry Sound Town Council, Carling Township Council, Sequin Township Council, McDougall Township Council, The Kinsmen Club of Parry Sound, The Rotary Club of Parry Sound, The Optimist Club of Parry Sound, The Parry Sound Lions Club, The Children’s Aid Society, The Government of Shawanaga First Nation, The West Parry Sound Health Centre, and Parry Sound Community Policing.
At this point, discussions began with the Ministry to establish an independent agency in Parry Sound. A Steering committee was established and proposal was submitted. With assistance from our local Member of Provincial Parliament, Norm Miller, confirmation was received in June 2001 that West Parry Sound VCARS was approved for full funding. West Parry Sound VCARS was incorporated August 22, 2001.
The founding Board members were: Rev. Larry Freeman (Chair), Tracey Pawis, Kathy Absolon, Brian Middaugh, Detective Constable Kim Wright, Constable Alex Zyganiuk, Staff Sergeant Irving Sloss and Joanne Scott.
The West Parry Sound VCARS expanded its service delivery area in 2006 and became the District of Parry Sound Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (referred to as East & West Parry Sound Victim Services). The organization now provides services to the entire District of Parry Sound with offices in Parry Sound and Burk’s Falls.
The primarily rural area covers over 9,222 square kilometers and includes a portion of Highway 400 (formerly 69), a heavily traveled highway, which is currently in the process of being twinned.
In general, it can be said that the area is economically depressed, with higher than average unemployment, seasonal work and low family income. The main industry in the District of Parry Sound area is tourism.
The permanent population of the District of Parry Sound is approximately 40,918. The composition of this population includes five First Nations communities: Wasauksing, Shawanaga, Magnetawan, Henvey Inlet, and Moose Deer Point. The First Nation are patrolled by Anishinabek Police Services (APS).
English represents 93% of the population; French 1.5%, and 6.5% list other languages.
An important factor in the population figures for District of Parry Sound is that the area is subject to extreme fluctuations in peak periods through the year, with the transient population swelling to 60,000. Of course, these non-residents, without their accustomed support services, have potentially even greater need for victim services.