TORONTO - Attorney General Doug Downey today announced emergency action to support victims of crime and protect front-line staff who continue to uphold the administration of justice in response to COVID-19.
The government of Ontario is providing an emergency payment of more than $2.7 million to support services for victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes during the COVID-19 crisis.
"Staying home is unfortunately not always the safest option in certain households and sadly a recent increase in domestic violence has been reported to front-line victim service organizations," said Attorney General Downey. "This emergency payment will ensure victims of crime, particularly those who are experiencing domestic violence, get the help they need to stay safe and healthy during this crisis."
This additional one-time emergency payment will help more than 50 community agencies across Ontario, including victim crisis assistance organizations (VCAOs), Indigenous organizations and those based in rural areas, stay operational and accessible to victims during the public health crisis. Funds will help front-line staff respond to challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis and enhance access to immediate supports for victims, including extended hotels stays, and transportation and meal vouchers available through the Victim Quick Response Program Plus (VQRP+).
"During the COVID-19 health emergency, victim service providers are seeing a spike in domestic violence cases just as victims are left with fewer and fewer places to turn for help," said Ontario Network of Victim Service Provider President, Sheri MacDonald. "The Attorney General and his staff understand what we're facing on the front lines and his cooperation and decisive action make a true difference for our clients."
Ontario is also working closely with justice partners to ensure critical services continue while keeping essential front-line workers and all Ontarians safe.
To support these efforts, the government is investing $1.3 million in technology to help courts and tribunals continue the transition to remote operations. Investments include additional laptops, conference lines and doubling the complement of digital recording devices for court use. This funding was announced on March 25th in Ontario's Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.
Ontario's courts and tribunals continue to shift to audio and video conferencing to hear priority matters. To date, all courtrooms in the Ontario Court of Justice are operating remotely. Matters involving individuals held in custody are now being held remotely, removing the need for transportation and transfers between correctional facilities and courthouses.
Ontario is also working with justice partners to support the transition to remote operations, including expanding e-filing tools.
"I want to thank the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice, the Court of Appeal, Tribunals Ontario, front-line workers, including the province's dedicated crown attorneys and committed court staff, and other partners for working with our government to limit attendance at courthouses and enforce strict physical distancing measures to protect essential workers in the justice system and keep all Ontarians safe," said Attorney General Downey.
"Victim Services Toronto commends the Attorney General for taking swift action during this crisis to support vulnerable victims and shore up essential services. Victim Services Toronto is extremely pleased the Ontario Government is taking all possible steps to support Ontarians during this crisis."
— Bonnie Levine, Executive Director, Victim Services Toronto
"I am excited about this good news for Six Nations and other First Nations who support victim services in their communities. We welcome these additional resources that will benefit Indigenous people as we work together to face this outbreak."
— Barb General, Justice Director, Six Nations Indigenous Victim Services
"Increasing the budget and staffing will enhance the quality of services Victim Services of Simcoe County can provide to clients. This investment will help our employees do more valuable work for victims."
— Robert Burke, Inspector, Barrie Police Service and Chair, Victim Services of Simcoe County
"I would like to commend the Attorney General, Doug Downey and the Province of Ontario, for being responsive to the needs of victims of crime during this unprecedented time of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19."
— Gillian Freeman, Executive Director, Victims Services York