Over the past three decades, concern has grown in Canada as it relates to the rights and needs of individuals who are victims of crime. It has been recognized that more can be done to address the needs of victims of crime and/or tragic circumstance and disaster in the Province.
The 1982 Canadian Urban Crime Survey, conducted in seven major urban centres by the Ministry of the Solicitor General Canada, with the assistance of Statistics Canada, provided much insight into the needs of victims of crime as defined by those persons who had themselves been victimized. Services valued most highly by the survey respondents included immediate, at-the-scene support, practical help, and information. Such assistance helped them to feel more confident that they could deal with both the consequences of the crime and their emotional reactions to the crime. Police also reported that victims who have had their own needs attended to effectively are often able to better recall details important to on-going police investigations.
In 1987, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General began three pilot projects in Ontario to test a new method for assisting police officers to meet their concerns regarding victims of crime. Utilizing trained and accredited volunteers, the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) in Algoma District, Brant County, and Frontenac County offered twenty-four hours per day, mobile crisis response teams to assist victims at the request of police officers.
The pilot projects were seen to have had a considerable impact in a number of areas. It demonstrated that multiple police jurisdictions can be serviced by a community-based location. As well, it has shown that victim services can be provided primarily through the use of 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 proved capable of significantly reducing the traumas 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.
Other independent police or community-based victim assistance programs throughout the Province provide further substantive documentation that victim assistance programs are an effective and valued means to helping victims of crime and tragic circumstances.
At the present time, there are 50 victim services sites in Ontario. In April 2015 the Ministry of the Attorney General implemented changes to the VCARS program. The program is now known as Victims Crisis Assistance Ontario, or VCAO. North Simcoe Victim Services (NSVS) continues to deliver services for victims under the new VCAO program format. NSVS is part of the Central Region under the Ministry of the Attorney General.
This region also includes: Barrie and Area VCARS, Muskoka Victim Services, Peterborough/Northumberland Victim Services, Kawartha/Haliburton Victim Services, York Region Victim Services, and Victim Services of Durham Region.