The United Conservative Party (UCP) have added another plank to their growing platform for the soon to be announced Alberta spring election.
On Friday, UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer, the MLA for Chestermere-Rocky View announced that, should they form the next Alberta government, the party would commit $5 million in new funding of which $3.5 million would be directed to sexual assault service centres in the province that provide counseling, support, and advocacy for those who are most in need on their healing journey.
Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt says of Canadian provinces, Alberta has one of the highest rates of reported sexual assaults. "I mean, it's not something anybody's really proud of but it certainly highlights the need to actually take action and do something about this," Pitt says. "I've been fortunate enough to sit in on some meetings with various sexual assault agencies and victim service providers across the province. The need is just exponential and has been growing significantly over time."
The UCP plan has a number of considerations in it, including some that are Alberta specific. One of those is that, in rural areas, there is a lack of specialized professional to support victims, investigate assaults and collect evidence through a sexual assault examination. Pitt explains what that means.
"One of the problems that we've been aware of for quite some time is that some of the more rural medical facilities are just not equipped to administer evidence collection kits when a sexual assault has taken place. So a survivour may make the effort to go to a medical facility to get this done and then be turned away because the capacity of these facilities is not available. Then quite often you won't ever see that survivour show up anywhere else because they just can't do it, and that's understandable. We need to put the supports in place so that that doesn't happen and any victim of sexual assault can go to any medical facility and be taken care of. I think that's just a right of Albertans."
Along with their promised increase in funds for sexual assault centres by $3.5 million annually, the UCP plan has five other points that call for, among other things, empowering victims of sexual assault by ensuring a "Third Option" choice to preserve evidence is available so they are not forced to decide immediately whether or not to proceed with a formal report.
The UCP also committed to maintaining the NDP government's 50 percent increase in funding for women's shelters from $33 million to $51 million.
There is presently no women's shelter in the city of Airdrie. Airdrie POWER has been lobbying for and working toward one for several years. In April, they're scheduled to open a Day Shelter, the first of its kind in North America.