Victims of violent crimes in Eeyou Istchee may – as soon as this fall – be able to rest a little easier in dealing with the after-effects of those incidents thanks to a program called CAVAC.

CAVAC, which stands for Crime Victims Assistance Centres, is a vital tool to help victims cope with the scary judicial process that follows a violent incident.

Karine Lasanté, a media relations representative for the Montreal CAVAC centre, explained that 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.

“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,” said Lasanté.

There is currently nothing in place similar to CAVAC in Eeyou Istchee.

“If we had a CAVAC office, the counselor could help the victim through all the bureaucracy and perhaps get compensation for them,” said Don Nicholls, Political Attaché for the Grand Council of the Crees.

“It’s about empowering the victim in the sense of knowing their rights and helping them through the judicial and healing process. It’s about getting them in contact with whatever facilities are available within the community or Cree Nation,” he said.

Nicholls said that although it is still in the planning stages, CAVAC could be making its first appearance in Eeyou Istchee as early as the fall.

“In 1972 the Quebec government passed an act to help compensate victims of crime,” noted Nicholls. In 1988 the Quebec government passed further legislation that allowed the creation of the CAVAC centres as we know them today. The first one opened that year in Quebec City. There are now 16 centres throughout Quebec.

“It’s important because the victims feel alone and scared at the time,” said Lasanté. “When you go through that, it’s something that really affects you. When a counsellor goes to a court with the victim, 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.”

With few services and rare visits by southern psychologists, the CAVAC program would be a welcome change for crime victims in Eeyou Istchee. Although not all details are finalized at this time, it appears to be on track.

“We have to take a look at how these services fit within the Cree Nation,” said Nicholls. He talked about victims knocking on the doors of police officers late at night, unsure of what a subpoena was or uncertain of various wording within the court documents. CAVAC is there for those types of questions, thus helping to take a bit of the load off of others within the community.

Nicholls said that if the project is approved, the people who are to work out of the office in Eeyou Istchee would be flown down to Montreal to learn the ropes and be properly trained before going back up north to start the project.

And best of all, the program would be free. The Bureau d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels, also known as the crime victims’ assistance office or BAVAC, created and funded by the Quebec government.

According to Nicholls, the Quebec government made an amendment to the Code of Penal Procedures in 2002, whereby criminals who were fined by the courts were also obligated to pay $10 extra towards helping the victims. This helps to offset BAVAC’s operating costs and enable its expansion into places such as Eeyou Istchee.

Those eligible to use the CAVAC program include all victims of any types of crime. Victims of assault, robbery, burglary, confinement, conjugal violence and other types of physical violence are eligible, to name a few. 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 verbally aid victims over the phone until the service is set up in Eeyou Istchee, or to set up appointments for some face time once it is. For more information call 1-866-LECAVAC, or 1-866-532-2822.