Evidence of meeting #37 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 restitution.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Irvin Waller  President, International Organization for Victim Assistance
  • Kim Pate  Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada
  • Stephen Fineberg  Vice-President, Canadian Prison Law Association

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone.

This is meeting number 37 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Thursday, May 3, 2012.

Today we're going to continue our consideration of Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act on accountability of offenders.

We'll have time at the end of today's meeting for the consideration of some committee business.

On our first panel today we will hear from Mr. Irvine Waller, president of the International Organization for Victim Assistance. Dr. Waller is a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. He is an author and his work has been recognized by numerous awards from the National Organization for Victim Assistance and others. He has championed the rights of child victims at the International Bureau for Children's Rights, where in 2005 he mentored the adoption of the UN guidelines on justice in matters involving child victims and witnesses of crime.

Our committee welcomes Dr. Waller back to the committee. I know we've had the privilege of hearing from him in the past and meeting him.

We look forward to your opening comments. Welcome.

3:30 p.m.

Dr. Irvin Waller President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Thank you for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak to crime victim issues in front of this committee.

I want to add to the introduction two or three things that I think are relevant to what I'm going to say.

I was involved in a major study in the seventies on the needs of crime victims and how we could meet those needs. One of the things clearly identified in that study was their need for restitution. I was also on the Hugessen committee that in 1973 brought victims and police officers onto the National Parole Board, something that continues to this day.

The award that you mentioned was for my role in getting the UN General Assembly to agree to human rights standards for crime victims. Those standards are very important for this committee to look at.

I'm going to be really reinforcing what the federal ombudsman on victim issues told you earlier, but I'm going to go a bit beyond what she told you and say that I think we need a lot more than is in Bill C-350 and a lot more than she called for to ensure that the needs of victims for reparation are met through restitution in this country, and at a level that meets international standards.

I want to make a more general point that the situation of crime victims in this country is way behind that of comparable jurisdictions, jurisdictions such as the United States, France, or Australia. That's not just my opinion, that's the opinion of several committees. The committee in 1989 that was chaired by David Daubney made a series of recommendations in restitution. The committee report “Victims' Rights - A voice, not a veto” in 1998-1999 made a series of recommendations about victims, most of which were ignored or implemented in a very unsatisfactory way.

If you look at what has happened in Ontario, which is the only place we've really had a serious look recently at what happens for crime victims, the Ontario ombudsman wrote a report that said the compensation system in Ontario, not the restitution system, was adding insult to injury.

In response to that report, Roy McMurtry, recently retired Chief Justice of Ontario, who will be known to all of you, completed a report making recommendations. Those recommendations used the UN standards from 1985. They talked about what the role of police should be to inform victims more about what is available. And they talked about the importance of having an advocate at the provincial level to get action.

Another important critic has been the Prime Minister's Office, which in the material prior to Bill C-10 talked about the damage that is done to victims by crime in this country, talked about the famous 83% of $100 billion. I prefer talking about $83 billion. That's actually the figure that comes from Justice Canada. I think it's a reasonable figure. It is, of course, the damage done to adult victims. It doesn't include victims under the age of 15. And $83 billion is a very important figure for what I'm going to have to say.

The Prime Minister's Office also talked about the abysmal proportion of victims who report to the police in this country, 31%. And if you look at sexual assault, it's actually only 8%. This is way below any comparable country, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. I think we have to ask ourselves very much why so few victims in this country are going to the police. They're very professional police, very highly paid police. But it is a very low proportion.

If we do, in fact, scratch at those figures to understand why, what we see is that victims of property crime are going to police because they expect some sort of reparation. That could include restitution, but it could include also other ways of paying back, which would include, of course, insurance.

If we look at victims of violent crime, then we see what they want is the offender stopped, and I want to emphasize “stopped”. I didn't say “punished”, I said “stopped”. It's actually a relatively small proportion who are going for some very heavy penalties.

It's a serious situation, and I hope your committee will choose to encourage not only the adoption of something along the lines of Bill C-350, but much more serious attention to meeting the needs of victims, in terms of their losses, and the ways in which those losses can be repaired.

My third point basically relates to international standards. We have, since 1985—Canada of course was a leader in getting those adopted—UN standards, and within those there are basically five issues. One of those issues is restitution for the victim from the offender.

In your introduction, sir, you mentioned the much later guidelines, around 2003, that have been adopted by ECOSOC, in relation to child victims. Those also refer to restitution.

Both of those documents have in the resolution or in the actual documents themselves a heavy emphasis on prevention. This country needs to reduce the $83 billion in harm to victims, and the way to do that is to invest in what is well established and well known and would reduce violence and property crime, everything from examples like Winnipeg, which reduced car theft by 87% within three years, to the Alberta strategy, where comprehensive matching of smart enforcement with smart treatment with smart prevention has been going now for nearly four or five years, with a plan and with evaluation and with the driving energy of the Alberta strategy being reducing harm to victims.

Some of the other international standards that I think your committee needs to look at are those, of course, of western Europe. The European Union has a framework decision from 2001, and is studying a directive at the moment, and those refer to restitution. Victims are represented with legal aid in France in the court process, and roughly 50% of all cases in France are resolved by the payment of restitution from the offender to the victim and there is no other action taken. This is undoubtedly a model for us. It's the model that influenced the International Criminal Court, of which Canada is a strong supporter, where victims are represented by legally aided lawyers.

The U.S. has a range of different things that relate to restitution. In California, for instance, their corrections system monitors the restitution orders, it takes payments on the minimal amounts that prisoners earn in prison, and it also takes payments out of what prisoners might get if they get a paying job as part of their sentence. There are other U.S. states that have something similar. Florida, for instance, has something similar. Vermont, just south of the border, actually pays restitution up to about $2,000, I believe, and then collects from the offender. So there are a number of interesting options within the U.S.

Probably the most important is the Justice For All Act. As you may or may not be aware, the current Vice-President of the United States has been the lead on three major pieces of legislation.

The Victims of Crime Act in 1984 puts about $1 billion into victim assistance and compensation every year by using a victim fine surcharge, which is way more advanced than ours, because it is applied not just to individuals but companies. Pfizer, for instance, paid a $1.3 billion fine that went into that.

Vice-President Biden also supported the Violence Against Women Act, a very important act, because not only does this look at what responses there should be to victims, it also looks at prevention and evaluates it.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Waller, if I can just interrupt for one minute, we're well over ten minutes now, coming up to eleven minutes. How much more do you have?

3:40 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

Two minutes. Sorry, my watch is not working right then.

The most recent act is the Justice for All Act. That includes restitution, includes legal aid, options for getting it, and that is of course behind a proposal that was launched last week to get a constitutional amendment in the United States that would include restitution.

In closing, I want to mention that I've written a book recently called Rights for Victims of Crime: Rebalancing Justice. It specifies quite precisely how we can get restitution to happen in this country, and I'm quite proud of a chapter in a criminology textbook that has just come out that talks about the Canadian situation and again repeats what can be done for restitution.

I'm available for questions.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Waller.

We'll move to the government side and to Ms. Hoeppner, please, for seven minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Dr. Waller, for being here, and thank you for the work you do advocating for victims.

I can say emphatically that on this side of the table—and I believe on both sides of the table—we are concerned with the way victims have been disregarded in many ways over the last many years under certain criminal justice regimes. What we're trying to do as the Conservative government is bring the focus back to victims. We've appointed the ombudsman for victims and created the role. There are a number of other initiatives we're doing, so it's really good to hear.... I'm sure you have a broad range of suggestions and things you would like to talk about.

I'm going to focus specifically on Bill C-350. I'm glad to hear that you support it. I want to ask you a couple of questions on your research and the work you've done with victims.

Can you explain how, for a victim to see an offender receiving money, especially when it's from the federal government, which is what this bill deals with.... If an offender is awarded funds from the federal government and is not obligated to pay the restitution that has been awarded and ruled on by a judge, can you talk about what that does to a victim, even in terms of re-victimizing?

Can you differentiate—if there is a difference—between victims of property crime, versus victims of violent crime?

3:40 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I think it's very clear that we don't have a system where the needs of victims are taken into consideration in a just and fair way. It's a surprise for victims when they go through the criminal justice process and find that the judge does not give due consideration to restitution. They suddenly find that the offender who was incarcerated is being released without any consideration given to restitution.

You're probably aware of the triple murder in the McDonald's in 1992. One of the offenders inherited some money and is now a multi-millionaire. So three people are dead, one person is disabled, and the parole process hasn't taken into account in any way whether this person is making restitution. I think that's a fairly extreme case, but nevertheless it's an important case that took place, and is taking place in Canada today.

I think victims are looking for some sort of justice from the criminal justice process. There are examples, like France and the International Criminal Court, where victims actually have standing and are able to talk about personal safety, restitution, and justice, and where restitution is ordered more often.

If you go back to cases like Olson, in those days we used to talk about the Son of Sam legislation. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that. A 2001 variation in New York State shows this is a model of what would happen.

One of the problems with Bill C-350 is that it's quite limited. We really need to set up a process whereby victims can sue an offender and get an order that is in some way enforceable. The Son of Sam legislation in New York State is one way of doing it, and there are other ways of doing it.

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

My time is limited, so I'm going to bring it back to Bill C-350. I appreciate, as you said, there may be more that we can do, certainly on the specific issue of restitution. I'm glad to hear that you support the spirit and what Bill C-350 does, even if it's a small step forward, telling victims that the restitution they've been awarded should come to them, and that we're starting the process.

The other part that the bill addresses quite clearly is the outstanding amounts owed to children and spouses of offenders. Do you do any work with the families of offenders, given the fact that they're also victims of crime?

3:45 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I don't have a comment on that.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

You don't have any comment at all?

3:45 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I comment on what I specialize in. I specialize in the needs and rights of victims, how we can meet those needs, how we can prevent.... I'm not a specialist on this issue, so I prefer to not comment.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

That's fine. We'd heard some testimony that spouses and children also are victims, but I respect that.

3:45 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I am not for or against. I don't have a comment.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

You also referred to different models, and the ombudsman also referred to other countries that are doing different things with restitution. Can you explain to me—and you did very briefly—in the U.S., for example, how are they compelling inmates to pay the fees and the restitution? Is this in legislation, and are they tracking the money that comes to them? Can you explain that a little further?

3:45 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

In the United States you've got the series of different jurisdictions. You've got the federal and the state jurisdictions. So it varies enormously. The California system is that if a restitution order is made, then the state correction system--you've got two levels of the correctional system--tracks the payments and they take money off the wages or income of the prisoner.

I think the Justice for All Act--that's the federal act from 2004--is a very important model to look at because it actually provides legal aid for victims to sue and try to get restitution.

I also want to draw your attention to the National Crime Victims Center in the United States, which has set up seven preconditions for restitution to actually get paid. The ombudsman referred to some of these in her evidence. But basically if we want to see restitution paid you have to start right from the beginning. So when the person's charged you need to get some idea of what that person's worth is. You need to make sure the victim is aware of restitution. That means the police need to inform them. You have to enable them to request it in a written request--I lost $500, or $500,000, whatever it is. We certainly need to make sure that judges are following this. The State of Oregon, for instance, had a sentence--not a restitution sentence, but another sentence--vacated because the victim's right was not respected, and it went to the Supreme Court.

So we need to make sure that when judges are not obeying what's in the Criminal Code or the spirit of what's in the Criminal Code, it's respected. We need to change the Parole Act and so on. You have to do it the whole way through.