Victims of crime in Eeyou Istchee will soon be able to reach for help close by. Two regional Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC) have been announced with joint operational funding to be located in the Cree territory.

CAVAC made the announcement in late May that $336,669 was to be donated annually to help with operating costs.

The Grand Council of the Crees agreed to pony up the same amount from the justice fund to bring the number to help victims of crime close to $700,000.

“We offer services on two levels: to help victims overcome the physical, psychological and social consequences of a crime, and to advocate on their behalf to help them obtain compensation for the harm suffered,” Karen Lasante, a media relations representative for the Montreal CAVAC centre, told the Nation in an article published two years ago.

“Each CAVAC is a community organization that delivers specialized services to persons of all ages who are crime victims or witnesses and to their family, regardless of whether the perpetrator of the crime has been identified, arrested, prosecuted or convicted. These services are confidential and free of all charges,” she said.

In the past, Crees have been able to access these services, but now the plan is to build a regional office on the coast and inland to better serve the needs of all Eeyouch.

It is expected the new facilities will be called Cree CAVAC or CAVAC-Cri.

Although it is too early to say where it will be built, when and how much it will cost, Grand Chief Matthew Mukash was confident that it will help to change the way crime victims are dealt with in the north.

“The people that will work on that program will work closely with social workers and police. It’s very good for our people. When I was chief in Whapmagoostui I would always be asked if there were any support for the victims of crime. A lot of people need support to recover from the trauma of crime,” he said.

“There’s going to be direct services given to the victims instead of having to go through other services like the Cree Health Board,” he added.

In 1972 the Quebec government passed an act to help compensate victims of crime. Then in 1988 it passed further legislation that allowed the creation of the CAVAC centres. The first one opened that year in Quebec City and there are currently 16 throughout the province.

“It’s important because the victims feel alone and scared at the time,” said Lasante. “When you go through that, it’s something that really affects you. When a counsellor goes to court with the victims, they feel helped and more secure. They are also confident because the person beside them understands what they’re going through and understands the procedures in court.”

The CAVAC centres were set up by the Bureau d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels (BAVAC), which was created by the Quebec government. Ottawa and Quebec fund the project partially through revenue generated from speeding tickets.

Those found guilty in the Quebec court system are obligated to pay an extra $10 towards CAVAC thanks to an amendment to the Code of Penal Procedures in 2002.

“The upcoming opening of the Cree CAVAC is good news for the Cree Nation as well as for the government,” said Quebec Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jacques Dupuis. “Together, we will be able to work more closely with the community and base interventions on the realities it faces. Together, we will help victims restore balance to their lives.”

Those eligible to use the CAVAC program include all victims of any types of crime. Victims of assault, robbery, break-ing-and-entering, confinement, conjugal violence and other types of physical violence are eligible as well. The family of the victims and witnesses of those crimes are also eligible for support from CAVAC.

There is a toll-free hotline set up to help victims over the phone until the service is established in Eeyou Istchee. For more information call 1-866-LECAVAC (1-866-532-2822).