A program aimed at helping high-risk sex offenders not to reoffend faces staffing and program cuts after losing its federal funding.
Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), which has 18 projects across Canada, found out last week Correctional Service Canada will no longer fund it after March 31.
Correctional Service Canada said it does not have $2.2 million in its budget to support the national program.
"It's been our longest-term supporter," said Joan Carolyn, director of the program in Winnipeg that started in 1999. "To lose someone like that is a big deal."
'The purpose is no new victims. That's why we do what we do'
CoSA says its 700 volunteers across Canada currently support 155 sexual offenders.
"We're trying to get people, if they believe in something like this, to contact their MPs and let them know," said Carolyn.
"For the Winnipeg group it will mean the loss of some highly valued staff," she said of the federal cuts.
Its entire operating budget is $135,000 and it will lose $25,000 in federal funding. At the end of September, the program will lose another big chunk of funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre -- an arm of Public Safety Canada -- when a five-year contract wraps up, she said. For Winnipeg, it means losing another $47,000 a year, said Carolyn.
The program is made up of volunteers who form a "circle" around a high-risk offender released into the community. With the support of local professionals, people connect with the offender while keeping an eye on them and holding them accountable so they don't reoffend.
"The purpose is no new victims," said program volunteer Adam Klassen Bartel in Winnipeg. "That's why we do what we do," said the 27-year-old.
"I really appreciated the way they went about trying to make communities safer for everyone and I wanted to be a part of that," he said.
The offenders committed "terrible acts" but "it's not realistic to keep them in jail forever," said Klassen Bartel.
He said he was disappointed but not surprised about the federal cuts.
"You hear about the news of all the money going toward more prisons, and harsher prison sentences -- it seems to be going in a different direction," he said.
The program has been supported by the federal government since 1994 when it began in Ontario. A community of concerned Canadians responded to the release of Charlie Taylor, a notorious child-sex offender. Taylor was surrounded by a group of volunteers committed to supporting him while holding him accountable for his actions. Taylor died 12 years after his release with no more victims, Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) said in a news release.
The program has become a model copied in the U.S., United Kingdom and several other European Union countries.
Correctional Service Canada did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
In Winnipeg, Circles of Support and Accountability also receives funding from the Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, said Carolyn.
The National Crime Prevention Centre is nearing completion of a $7.5-million national evaluation of CoSA. It concludes this September but Correctional Service Canada, an arm of Public Safety Canada, has decided not to wait and is pulling its support in March.
In Winnipeg, Circles of Support and Accountability will continue to support the 12 "core members" it's now working with but eight or so people on the waiting list may have longer to wait, Carolyn said.