Sex offender project in limbo amid funding flap
Published Tuesday, September 29, 2009 7:46AM EDT
OTTAWA - A program that helps keep convicted sex offenders from committing more crimes is in limbo after being told its funding request has been rejected by the federal government.
But a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said Monday that no decisions have been made.
Andrew McWhinnie, head of Circles of Support and Accountability, said he was personally informed of the rejection last Friday by Robert Cormier of the National Crime Prevention Centre, which falls under Van Loan's ministry.
It's the first time the circles program, a Canadian community-based group that has been copied internationally, has sought major federal funds.
The program was seeking $1.5 million annually for five years, with what McWhinnie said was the full support of the federal crime prevention centre.
The 15-year-old circles program, which operates on a shoe-string budget at 16 sites across Canada, had hoped to double the number of sexual and violent offenders under its watch, McWhinnie said in an interview.
"It's got a pretty firm track record of substantially reducing recidivism among sex offenders, by 83 per cent compared to those who don't have (access to the program).
"It's exactly what this government says they wanted to do. So we're quite shocked -- and I can tell you, quite frankly, so is the National Crime Prevention Centre shocked -- that this was turned down."
A spokesman in Van Loan's office said by email that "the minister has not made any decisions regarding the organization's request for funding."
Inquiries to the crime prevention centre, which are filtered through the Public Safety Department's communications branch, went unanswered Monday.
According to the centre's website: "Our work provides national leadership on effective and cost-effective ways to prevent and reduce crime by intervening on the risk factors before crime happens."
McWhinnie said his funding application had cleared five separate criteria at the centre and been green-lighted by its corporate and financial departments. But Van Loan's sign-off was required -- and that's where McWhinnie says he was told the proposal died.
"The speculation is this has to do with sex offenders," he said. "That's unpalatable for government and probably for the public."
The apparent funding rejection means that rather than doubling the number of sex offenders in the program to about 300, it will likely slip back to fewer than 140 next year.
The program had hoped to start a circle in Edmonton, which won't now go ahead. Recently started groups in Halifax, Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Sask., and Vancouver may not survive.
McWhinnie said he's particularly puzzled because the Harper government is moving to end statutory release, particularly for the types of offenders his group handles.
"It seems kind of silly that the government would incarcerate more people, or keep people in incarceration longer, and then release them without any supports whatsoever -- and then not fund an organization such as ours that is there to catch the gap when these people are left."
Great Britain has adopted the program as part of its probation system, said McWhinnie. Several U.S. states, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, also use the program.
Its popularity is due to the fact the circles stop high-risk offenders from committing new crimes, said McWhinnie.
"The idea being if we hold them accountable and govern their actions through trained circles with volunteers, we can keep them from re-victimizing others."
The program began 15 years ago in Toronto and now operates across Canada, mostly using volunteers, with small amounts of funding from the chaplaincy at Corrections Canada.