Above: Sturgeon Victim Services Executive Director Elisabeth Melvin stands outside her office at the Morinville RCMP Detachment. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
Last year, Sturgeon Victim Services (SVS), a not-for-profit organization that provides 24/7 crisis response through the RCMP, saw an overall increase in call volume of 4.67% over 2021.
In 2022, SVS responded to 628 calls for assistance, an increase of 28 calls over 12 months. While a roughly 5% increase in response calls is not alarming, the breakdown of those calls is a cause for concern.
“I think what is most disturbing to myself personally is to see the amount of family violence,” said Sturgeon Victim Services Executive Director Elisabeth Melvin. “Domestic Disputes, which has always been at the top—that is before criminal activity has happened. But family violence—something bad has gone down.”
Domestic Dispute calls increased from 117 in 2021 to 133 in 2022, an increase of 13.67%. However, family violence calls rose from 62 in 2021 to 100 in 2022, an increase of 61.29%.
“[The numbers] represents one file, but that doesn’t just represent one person per file,” Melvin said. “It’s heartbreaking to see. To see the stats that high is alarming.”
In the case of a domestic dispute or family violence, the RCMP will call in SVS to assist after the initial police call.
Working with victims of crime and tragedy is performed by volunteers called advocates who have specialized training and high-level RCMP clearance. Melvin said Sturgeon Victim Services currently has 12 advocates who are available 24/7 when on rotation.
“Most likely, we are not getting called out to those [active] situations, but we will receive a referral, and we call those families. We try to mitigate the stress that is going on,” Melvin explained.
Melvin explained that when basic needs are not being met (food, housing, financial) increased stresses in the home can lead to arguments, disputes and violence.
“We offer counselling resources. We can look at community engagements that are happening, anything to support families, even parenting courses,” she said.
Melvin said she prefers to receive domestic dispute calls rather than family violence calls because it allows her team to get into a situation before violence has occurred to mitigate a worsening situation.
The concerns are real. With domestic disputes and family violence totalling 233 of 628 calls last year, it is 37.1% of the organization’s calls.
“It’s horrible,” Melvin said.
Another alarming statistic for 2022 was sexual assaults, which had 60 files that SVS responded to in the municipalities within Sturgeon County and Alexander First Nation. Twenty-five of the 60 were in Morinville. Melvin said some of those numbers are related to an ongoing police investigation.
In July of 2022, 21-year-old Imesh Ratnayake was formally charged by RCMP with many sexual assaults. Police reported in late December that there might be as many as 100 additional unidentified victims of child luring and sexual assault in Edmonton and the surrounding area.
The next highest number of calls in 2022 was sudden death calls, which increased from 31 in 2021 to 41 in 2022. Melvin said sudden death calls include those who were ill, suicides, drug overdoses, and other sudden passings, including sudden infant death syndrome.
Melvin said the RCMP almost always call upon SVS to assist in those instances, and they always attend unless the family declines. In declining cases, Melvin said it is almost always because the deceased was expected to pass due to final-stage illnesses.
Changes Coming To Victim Service Units
The Government of Alberta is currently planning changes to how Victim Services units in the province operate.
Under the current model, there are 71 victim service units across the province, including the one operating out of the Morinville detachment. With the changes announced by the Government of Alberta, they will move to a model that uses four zones in 2024.
Each zone will include a governing board, an executive director, and a team of 10 centralized professional support staff (CPSS). Under those four groups will be 131 case workers for all of Alberta.
Last fall, Melvin raised concerns with the province about the changes and was selected as one of 15 SVS experts to sit on a government group to examine how the changes will take place.
For more information on Sturgeon Victim Services, visit their Facebook page at: