The Chief’s Gala raised over $1 million for Victim Services Toronto (VST).
The 15th annual event held at the Beanfield Centre November 17, drew over 1,000 people to support the non-profit agency that provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours a day.
“Whether it is by being that very first point of interaction and support after a traumatic event or by providing practical assistance such as arranging food, shelter, clothing, funerals or travel visas, Victim Services works to help individuals and families cope with the emotional and psychological effects of crime,” said Chief James Ramer. “They offer support and care during the most challenging moments in people’s lives.
Full-time and volunteer crisis counsellors provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene of a crime or sudden tragedy, and help to raise awareness about healthy relationships with young people.
“As police officers, we know firsthand that the pain and trauma associated with an incident does not simply disappear once a suspect is apprehended or when the crime scene tape is rolled out. For many, indeed, it is only just the beginning. And, in this respect, this organization serves as a vital link in a chain of care.”
Ramer said every emergency service member at the Gala and every link in the chain grasps the importance of VST’s work.
“This is because we have seen it in action,” he added. “Because we have witnessed you weather the challenging operational shifts associated with the pandemic to continue providing exceptional care. Because we have watched you strengthen your capacity to support all Torontonians with the ability to deliver help in 51 languages. Because, time and again, we have seen you go that extra mile, above and beyond the call of duty, to serve. As members of this chain, we share a special kinship, a mutual respect born from mutual experience. Tonight is the perfect representation of our partnership.”
Since 2008, over $4.2 million has been raised at the Chief’s Gala. The evening was attended by Premier Doug Ford and Mayor John Tory as well as former Toronto Chiefs Mark Saunders, Bill Blair, Julian Fantino and Chief Designate Myron Demkiw. Toronto Fire Services Chief Matthew Pegg acted as the Master of Ceremonies.
VST Executive Director Carly Kalish says her team strives to go to any length to help victims.
“Their efforts are stunning. But we are also constantly inspired and enlightened by the victims who exhibit remarkable strength courage and resilience,” said Kalish, of the 20,000 people they help each year who found themselves in tragic situations.
People who lost a child to gun violence, large families who lost all their possessions in a housefire, domestic violence survivors, seniors scammed of their savings and survivors of suicide.
“All of these scenarios happen and will happen again,” Kalish said. “Supporting victims of crime and sudden tragedy is a community collaboration – whether it’s through volunteering, donating, advocating, or by being someone who shows up. Like you have this evening.”
She pointed to a collaboration with Sex Crimes Human Trafficking Enforcement Team this summer. The investigating officer gave a heads-up to VST staff that they were planning to execute a search warrant at two houses where they believed there were survivors of human trafficking.
The VST staff created a plan, booking rooms in hotels, stocking up on food, arranging for immigration lawyers, securing temporary visas and collaborating with partner agencies to put in place long-term housing support and advocacy. They also mobilized their Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers to help as many survivors were expected to speak the language.”
“The survivors told us stories about their exploitation. How their paycheques and passports were confiscated. How they were forced to pay rent in a basement apartment with 20 other survivors, forced to pay for each piece of toilet paper. Medication was withheld. The trafficker threatened to kill their families back home,” Kalish said, noting that survivors also bravely helped police find more victims.
Overall, they supported more than 30 adults and two children.
“They were housed, fed and finally safe. They hugged us and thanked us. Their fear transformed into relief.”
She said supporting Victim Services Toronto allows people to find a way past a tragedy.
“This is an organization filled with people who will walk alongside victims through their pain. Ensure they are not alone in their darkest days. And, afterward, help them discover their true strength and ability to rise up again.”