Evidence of meeting #36 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was victims.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ross Toller  Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Alexandra Budgell  Counsel, Department of Justice
  • Susan O'Sullivan  Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

We'll move back to Ms. Doré Lefebvre.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much, Ms. O'Sullivan, for being here and telling us about how you see things. To be honest, it's nice to hear a point of view that's different from the one around this table. Given the work you do, in particular, you are fully aware of the needs of victims.

I agree with several aspects of Bill C-350. Usually, in society, a person must fulfill his or her obligations. In fact, all victims should have access to compensation of this kind. In your presentation, which calls for greater respect for victims, you made a number of very interesting recommendations that should be taken into consideration.

Like you, I think that Bill C-350 includes improvements, especially with respect to the previous one, Bill C-292. Among other things, compensation will from now on be shared more equally among the parties. And an order of priority has been set.

However, Bill C-350 seems to take on only a small part of this large problem of victim compensation. Would you like more improvements made to this bill? I'll go even a little further and ask this: if you could amend the bill or make it perfect, what changes would you suggest to us?

4:50 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Thank you for that, because I'd like to add all the recommendations relating to restitution included in our report, Shifting the Conversation.

I think what we're talking about here is balance. This bill is dealing with, as I said.... I tried to find the data to look at what would be the actual moneys, and they are a smaller amount. We're talking about the huge of cost of crime here, and I think that the recommendations on restitution that we make in the report are very specific ones to get us as a country to make a fundamental shift to start putting the victim and the losses they've suffered to that.

Again, when I've been before committees, I do talk about balance because it's not an either/or here. When we look at our criminal justice system and healthy and safe communities, this include everything from prevention to intervention, to early intervention, and to where we end up at the other end of the criminal justice system. And for many victims, their needs go way beyond the point where the criminal justice system or court case has finished.

What we can do is to start with some of the very practical recommendations we have in this report. I think of the recent announcement for making mandatory the federal victim surcharge and doubling that, which will help raise funds for the provinces and territories. But I think we do need to be making some very concrete moves towards actual restitution and in how we're managing that on a national level in terms of providing some actual compensation.

One of the things that often comes up in these conversations—and I did have the opportunity to hear a few as well—is the offender's ability to pay given small amounts they earn. But when they come back out....

There is something in the United States I think we might want to look at. I need to do a little more digging into this. There's something called the inmate financial responsibility program in the United States. It basically works with offenders so that they can understand financial responsibility, including payment of debts once they are out of the institution and back in the community. I think it reflects some of the comments made that these debts are still owing. I go back to my position that difficult as it is for a lot of people to pay these, I'm going to put the victims forward.

When they aren't getting some of the basic services, the victims understand that the majority of offenders are coming back out into the community and don't want them to reoffend. There's not one victim I have talked to who does. They will tell you that they don't want what happened to them to happen to anyone else. They understand that the inmates need supports while they're in the institution and when they're back in the community. What they can't understand is why they don't have access to the supports that are in place and available to offenders.

So it is about a rebalancing and the practical things we can do to really take the costs off victims, Really, with 83% of the tangible and intangible costs of crime in our country borne by victims, we need to be looking at newer ways. And so there are some very positive recommendations in the report.

I thank you for that question .

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

You spoke about a program in the United States that aims to make offenders accountable. In everyday life, they must pay the restitution, which seems fairly interesting. Do you think it is working well?

4:50 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I don't have any data on the efficacy of this program. We've just started looking into it. What I like about it is its longer term view, that there's a balance and that it understands the accountability. When you talk about repayment of debt here, if it is restitution or the federal victim surcharge, what you're talking about is not just reparation of harm to victims. It is also about the accountability and responsibility of the offender. I would argue that rehabilitation and their correctional plan is what it's about. When the offender does go back into the community and either has a job or is getting moneys, they should be able to repay that debt. It can't continue to be the burden of the victims of crime in this country.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

I fully agree with you on that. In any event, when these people return to the community, these are things that they will be required to do as citizens. We all have to pay our debts. It's normal. I find it really interesting that you talked to us about balance and that the victims also understand just how important it is that the offenders, the people who committed offences, do not do the same thing in society, and that it's all balanced. It's a fairly healthy and interesting perspective.

I know that back in the 1990s, victims had access to compensation. This unfortunately no longer exists in certain provinces and territories because of a lack of funds. Do you think that if we reinvested in this type of fund, at the federal and provincial levels, that it would help and touch more victims?

4:55 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

That's a very complex and complicated issue. I believe it was 1992, and I think decisions were made. I think it would perhaps be best to ask the provinces and territories that carry that burden.

One of the things I can tell you is that I've had the privilege of being in different areas and talking to different people across this country, and every province and territory is unique and has unique challenges. They understand their communities. I recently had the opportunity to be up north and to see not only some of the challenges they encounter there but also some of the really inspiring things going on up there to support victims of crime. So I think those are the kinds of conversations that probably should be involving the provinces and territories.

I can tell you that from a victim's perspective, what they do see is huge variability across the country.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. Sullivan.

Ms. Young.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Ms. Sullivan, thank you for coming here today and sharing some of this with us.

I want to ask if you have a particular case that you want to share with us today, to shed further light on this bill and the impact it would have on these victims, as well as on the rest of Canada.

4:55 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Obviously, I can't speak to any individual cases due to confidentiality, but I can speak to the issue of what we often hear. If a victim contacts our office and it's not a federal issue, we will get them to where they need to go to get the best information. So we will receive calls about issues, be they support issues or financial support issues, that are the responsibility of the provinces. So we will direct them to the appropriate office at the provincial-territorial level, particularly if it is specific to child support or that kind of family support issue.

When it comes to the costs of crime and the lack of resources for victims, I thank you for that question because what we're trying to do is put a human face on it. Anybody listening here can think of someone they know who has been a victim of crime. There are a lot of great things happening in our country as well in terms of the front-line support that is available and the people who are doing phenomenal work delivering those supports. We don't want to lose sight of that. What we want to make sure of is that they have the resources to do that and to deliver that service. And that's why we have to be looking, if I can say this, at respecting the levels of governments' mandates, but also thinking together strategically on how best to mobilize and ensure that those supports are in place. It's exactly what this committee is looking at.

So what we have here with this legislation, which we would support, is a very practical priority list, which we understand is in line with the provinces' priorities. But I think we have to look at better ways in this country of supporting victims of crime with tangible financial supports, because if somebody does need to get some very practical services, again there is variability across the country depending on what the provinces and territories can put in place. Also, quite frankly, there are different issues depending on the remoteness of areas and access. What I am hearing about is issues around capacity, and training people to do that as well.

There is whole series of issues that we have to look at. But at the end of the day, if you were a victim of crime in this country, you should be able to get the supports you need. Again, I go back to the issue of every victim being unique. Those supports may be financial support for some, or housing, or support through the court process, or long-term counselling. So there are some very practical needs that victims of crime have, which we need to be ensuring they have access to in a very timely way.

May 1st, 2012 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Might I follow that up then with a question around balance and accountability, which you talked a lot about? With regard to the accountability aspect, do you often find that the inmate will step forward to make restitution, if they have been awarded something or have their own resources?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

We haven't specifically had this issue in the office of an award to an offender and any monetary.... Most of our issues have been around restitution or an inability to get access to that. I can say—though I almost hesitate to, because I've had one opportunity to speak with a group of offenders and I don't like to make an assumption based on one meeting—that I have had the opportunity to listen to offenders on some of these issues, and some of them did bring forward the issue that they had no mechanism. They wanted to be able to provide.

Again, I couch those comments; that was only on one meeting with a group of offenders, but I thought it was interesting. We shouldn't be making assumptions either on what the offenders can or cannot do, because it was fairly apparent from my one meeting that some of them wanted to be able to do more in that way.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Right. So we should also be looking at the broad spectrum of the fact that offenders also want to use this mechanism.

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Again, I hesitate to generalize based on one meeting, but my message is that sometimes we don't want to be making assumptions about what they can or can't do or what they want to do. At the end of the day, and I listened to Mr. Toller on this, we need to have mechanisms in place that allow for...if there are.... This legislation is example. I was asked if it should be broader. Yes, it should be. We should be looking at restitution, in general, in this country as well. And how are we supporting victims of crime financially to get the resources and the supports they need, when they need them?

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Are there any down sides to this bill?