A highly successful crime prevention volunteer program, directed by a Vancouver Island man, is in danger of collapsing for lack of funding. Circles of Support and Accountability was founded by Ontario Mennonites in 1994 years ago to help sex offenders obey the law and reintegrate in society after finishing their terms. It was going to lose a chunk of federal funding until last month’s popular outcry gained it a reprieve. But Ottawa’s message is clear: the cuts are still coming. Find other money.
National co-ordinator Andrew McWhinnie, a Victoria counselor, applauded Corrections Canada for restoring the $650,000 in core funding, but said “$650,000 is not enough to keep operating at capacity.” And anyway, the delay in the cut is temporary.Across Canada, the whole program provides for 155 violent sex offenders.
CoSA has spread to the United Kingdom and the U.S. because it reduces recidivism among sex offenders by 70 per cent. It lines up “circles” of four to six volunteers for each willing sex offender, who meet with him weekly to discuss his problems and needs. “The volunteers don’t get paid,” says Ottawa CoSA co-ordinator Sue Love. “That goes a long way with people just out of prison.” Love adds that the ministry, which recruits volunteers from all faiths and none, “speaks to the Christian message that people deserve to be forgiven and that no one is disposable.”
The program’s premise may upset some who believe sex offenders are simply, always and irredeemably, evil; leaving aside the cause of sex offending, it alleviates the pressures of reintegration that trigger deviant sexual action.
But as part of general cutbacks, Corrections Canada plans to eliminate its $650,000-annual grant to CoSA. Paradoxically, the organization is getting $1.5 million from another branch of the federal government for a onetime study of its effectiveness. Both will be gone in a year or two.
There haven’t been any Circles of Support on Vancouver Island for several years, says MacWhinney, because no sex offenders who moved here after release from jail were interested. But should one appear, there is no doubt the Island’s Christian community will provide more volunteers.
It is hard not to view this cut alongside federal legislation to protect victims. In terms of “optics,” there is no contest between helping victims and helping predators. However, in terms of public safety and dollars spent to prevent future victimization, CoSA’s worthiness is a no-brainer.