Chinook Sexual Assault Centre opens

 Kristine Cassie, CEO of the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre, speaks with Mary Fox before the ceremony begins.

On March 8, the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre officially opened its doors with a grand opening ceremony featuring numerous dignitaries.

Several members of the media, public, and the staff of the center were present at the ceremony along with Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips, Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Lethbridge College, Dr. Paula Burns; Deb Tomlinson from the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services, people from the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services; Dennis Cassie, Town of Coalhurst Mayor, representatives from the Lethbridge Regional Police Service, people from the Government of Alberta and related agencies, and Rachael Harder, Member of Parliament for Lethbridge. “We’re very pleased to finally be celebrating the opening of the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre and we’re pleased about the investment made by the province in this area and also pleased about the work that has been done to launch this,” said Bill Kaye, the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre. Following his comments, Kaye turned the room over to Blackfoot Elder Mary Fox for the Traditional Blackfoot Blessing. Fox offered a few words pertaining to sexual violence against children prior to the blessing. “Our children are our targeted every day and the problem crosses all cultural, educational, socioeconomic, and economic boundaries,” Fox said. “Cindy Blackstock said that one of the first steps in addressing sexual abuse is acknowledging its existence and saying it's not okay.” Once the Traditional Blackfoot Blessing was complete, MP Rachel Harder said a few words. "As much as I don't want to have to have a center like this, I'm incredibly thankful that our community now does...I'm proud to advocate for survivors of sexual assault and to do all that I can to ensure the freedom of Canadians is upheld and insured.” Harder went on to say that every single person in this country is of inherent worth and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, the utmost dignity, the upmost honor. Harder added that every person has the right to feel safe and secure, stating that women, indigenous people, members of the LGBTQ2 community, and people living with a disability are far more likely to be victimized by sexual assaults than any other group of people, and that grieves her. “What makes the Chinook Sexual Assault Center so special is its mission,” Harder said. Continued on Page 4 Continued from Front Page “Its mission is to greet people with a kind and safe face as they walk through that door in pursuit of help. What makes this place so special is the fact that they will walk with these individuals from start to finish. The fulfillment of justice. What makes this place so special is the love and the care and the concern and the genuine nature of those who work here.” Following MP Harder’s comments, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips took the floor and said that have always sought out these services and people have also sought to meet that need. Phillips emphasized that it was feminists in the community for the last half century who paved the way for this day. Phillips added that the public should all take time to appreciate and understand what has been done and what is still left to do. “International Women's Day came out of World War One where women were saying, we want bread and roses; we want peace,” Phillips said. “The roses stood for peace, but the bread stood for equality and women wanted equality in getting their basic needs met.” Deb Tomlinson from the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services then talked about how the fight to end sexual violence has been going on in Alberta for about 40 years. In Alberta, Tomlinson said, there approximately 76,000 incidents of sexual assault in a one-year period in people ages 15 and over, but those numbers do not include everyone. In younger children, one in three girls and one in six boys also suffer it each year. “Sexual assault is a very serious public health issue,” Tomlinson said. “We knew that very few survivors ever reported to the police and that sexual assault has the lowest police reporting rate of any crime in Canada. Recent statistics tell us that about 3% of survivors are reporting to the police. And if those who do report only 0.03% result in conviction. So sexual assault is a serious community safety issue. We knew that silence and secrecy and shame surround this crime and that results in survivors not reaching out to help for two professionals.” Tomlinson then said that after decades of silence and secrecy, survivors began coming forward to speak their truth in numbers that were just too big for us to ignore and they are still coming forward. Due to this major increase in people coming forward for help, the Government of Alberta decided to make an 8.1 million dollar investment in building the capacity of the services that would help survivors heal from the effects of sexual assault and that would provide them with the information and the support they need in order to be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to access the criminal justice system. The Government of Alberta also proclaimed May to be Sexual Violence Awareness Month. Tomlinson added that the Chinook Sexual Assault Center is part of the government's historic investment of resources and investment of health and safety for everyone. Tomlinson also recalled being at a community meeting 15 years prior that was called the Lethbridge Sexual Assault Conference and was dedicated to dealing with the issue. Because of that work, Tomlinson said, the Sexual Violence Action Committee was formed and has since evolved into an effective collaborative service network. “Continue to work together to support the centre, to support survivors, and don't forget to support each other,” Tomlinson said. Kristine Cassie, the CEO of the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre then concluded the ceremony by expressing gratitude for the investment of funding, time, wisdom and compassion that was involved in bringing the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre to life. Cassie also thanked the Board of Directors for their vision, tenacity, and commitment to make a difference in the lives of others and how it helped to make the center a reality. Cassie then thanked the Government of Alberta and provincial organizations for their recognition and investment in addressing the issue of sexual violence, as the investment improves longterm outcomes of health, both socially and economically, within society. “Survivors of sexual violence, we are here for you humbled by your strength and bravery,” Cassie said. “We commit ourselves, provide services with compassion and dignity that are qualified through research and evaluation. There are built on choice and guided by your knowledge of what you need to reclaim your spirit and rebuild your life on behalf of the board and the staff, or the Chinook Sexual Assault Center. Thank you for celebrating the start of this new journey. We are thrilled that you are all along for the ride and we hope that someday soon we can end sexual violence and all communities.”

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