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 victims.

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

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Waller.

We'll now move to Mr. Garrison, please, for seven minutes.

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

It's a great pleasure to have Dr. Waller here. We were just exchanging that as a criminal justice instructor, I used much of his research in my teaching and we sent students from our program to study with him.

It's a great pleasure to have you here today.

I want to continue the discussion on the idea of restitution versus the distinction between restitution and compensation. It's a question I asked the victims ombudsman. If the focus is on repayment by the offender, I have a worry or a concern that victims will end up with differential treatment. In other words, if your offender is someone with resources and who takes responsibility, then the person is likely to receive coverage for their losses. But if the person is of few resources or turns out to be someone who resists taking responsibility and accountability, those victims would end up without compensation.

I just wonder if you have some thoughts on that dilemma.

3:50 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I think what we have to do is work out what restitution is justified in respect of the harm that was done to the victim and what actually gets paid. You should not be trying to get blood out of stone. You have to recognize that somebody who's incarcerated is typically not getting a lot of income and therefore you're not going to get a lot of money. What the UN General Assembly declaration says is that you first look at what restitution you can get from the offender, and then, in cases of violence—and that's not limited to physical violence, it could be serious psychological trauma—you turn to compensation.

But I am realistic: I don't think we're going to get all the $83 billion paid back by anybody. That's why I think it's so important that our legislators at the federal and provincial levels start seriously investing in what we know will stop this violence. Alberta provides a good example of what we need to be looking at from coast to coast, and, up to a point, what the federal government needs to collaborate in.

There are other ways of getting that payment made. That's effectively what happened in the Jones case, where the Royal Bank came up with $17 million. So there are the possibilities of third-party suits or contributions, where something can be paid. But it's not going to happen in every case. If you go back to the McDonald's triple murder, I don't think you'd be able to show how McDonald's contributed to negligence in that case. You can't always expect there to be a rich corporation around the corner to pay those amounts.

We have to start looking at this in a broader context, and we have to look at it from the victim perspective. That's what's so important. Criminal justice should respond to the needs of victims in a just and fair way, and that includes getting judges to order restitution.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

In this committee we have had a raft of bills coming at us that take various pieces of this. On this side, we're going to be asking that the committee devote some time to those broader issues, to a broader study of victims. I'm hoping we'll find agreement on the other side. I'm optimistic that we will, if we ever get out from under this onslaught of legislation. So I take your point there.

3:55 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I do crime victims week on both sides of the border, and I was invited by the bipartisan caucus of the U.S. Congress to address their public policy forum. In Canada, I would like to see at the federal level—actually at any level—more cooperation on the victim issue. I didn't say on punishment. You'll never agree on punishment, but you could agree on prevention, victim assistance, and victim rights. I think this is a no-brainer for all parties to work on.

Progress in this area is overdue. I think one in four adults in Canada is a victim of some crime. If you look at the Prime Minister's statistics, which are police statistics, there are 400,000 victims, and that excludes many of the people, women, who are victims of serious assault. If you need an argument, that's an argument. We need to start bringing those figures down. Yes, we need to use evidence to do it, and to the extent that we're not successful, we need to make sure there are services there, that police are doing it the way the international—

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I'm going to run out of time, so I'll ask a quick question.

In the current budget we had large cuts at Statistics Canada. I'm just wondering whether you have concerns about the ability to collect the statistics on victims of crime.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

We need to keep the focus on this bill, but we'll allow that question this time. I'm going to be watching, going over a review of budget, whether there's enough or not.

Go ahead, Mr. Waller.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

This is about the collection of statistics on victims of crime.

3:55 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

It is extremely difficult in this country to get accurate statistics on the use of restitution. It is also difficult, but not impossible, to get statistics on the harm.

The $83 billion comes from a combination of the crime victims survey multiplied by the estimates of costs. This country does victimization surveys only every five years. Alberta does them regularly, but we don't nationally. Other countries, such as the U.S. and England, do these regularly.

So I don't know whether it should come out of Statistics Canada, but we need surveys. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has said that the only way we'll know whether victims' needs are being met by police is through surveys. And if they say it, then those are strong grounds for doing it.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Garrison and Dr. Waller.

We'll now go to Mr. Leef, please, for seven minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Thank you.

Thank you, Dr. Waller. That's quite a dossier and CV you have. We appreciate your experience on this bill.

I don't know how many more questions now we can ask. We've asked a number of other witnesses about this, and I'm gathering your position, really, is that while this might be a positive signal in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, we probably need to look at other ideas, other solutions, and other bodies of legislation or policy development to really hit the nail on the head with this. I'll ask you a couple of points, maybe, just out of curiosity, to help shape this and future discussions that our committee is bound to have.

The $83 billion that's borne by crime victims—is that measured by direct victimization, or do they take into account indirect? What I'm getting to is how we create a determination of claimants so that it doesn't go from the reasonable to the ridiculous when you have claimants coming forward looking for restitution, and also how we can get full perspective on whether or not in this country we're measuring that number properly and giving it its true weight.

Just to give an illustration of it, if somebody breaks into a pharmacy and disrupts the operation of that pharmacy and the business has to be closed, you create a number of victims after that point—the people who can't access those services, who might be in desperate need of those services. Arguably we would include them in a victim picture. That might not be where that $83 billion starts to be calculated.

Maybe I can just get your thoughts on whether that would be a reasonable calculation to include in that number a certain level of indirect clients. Do we do that, and to what degree do we do that?

4 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

The $83 billion comes from work done by Justice Canada. It's used a lot by Minister Nicholson, and I think it's good use of data.

It is limited in some ways. It's based on really two core bits of information. One is what's called, by me, the “victimization” survey, which is the general social survey that basically talks to a sample of some 25,000 adult Canadians about whether they've been the victims of eight or nine specific crimes. Those include the common violent crimes and the most important property crimes, but they don't include fraud, for instance.

They then multiply the estimates of those crime levels by estimates of what a civil court would pay an average victim. It doesn't include companies and it doesn't include the sort of secondary victims that you're talking about.

I think it's about at the limit of our current methodological sophistication. In my book I use American data because it's a bit better than ours, but it comes basically to the same conclusions. My stuff also includes drunk driving, which is where more people are killed than in homicide in Canada and where people get injured.

But, you know, it's a ballpark figure, and if you started including these others, you would increase that figure. I'm not against somebody doing it.

I want us to use the $83 billion because it has recognition by our current federal government and I think it's good.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Thank you.

If this steps outside of your area of expertise or specialty, there's no problem.

We haven't had a lot of criticism, necessarily, in the direction we're going with this one specific thing, other than, as I said, the fact that there's encouragement to try to do a bit more generally. But to focus right back on the bill, the only criticism I think we've heard is the concern that forcing—for lack of a better word—an inmate to pay or make restitution takes away their choice or their rehabilitative improvements to make the right choice and to seek reward and growth from that experience. I have my own opinion on that, which is that if anybody in the free world in society has to make those payments regardless of choice, then we should all be treated equally.

But from a purely rehabilitative perspective—and from your studies, if you have those—does that seem to make sense? If we're forcing a judgment upon an inmate to make restitution and payment because of a court judgment, would you see that as impacting on or interfering with their ability to achieve rehabilitation or to achieve a higher level of their own decision-making, which would affect them when they're released into the greater society?

4 p.m.

President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

You didn't hear this, but I wrote a major book on the effectiveness of the prison parole system. It's somewhat dated, but the data is used on the website of the Correctional Service of Canada, and I've certainly stayed in touch with the material on what is effective in terms of reducing recidivism.

My major point is that we have to start with the reasonable needs of victims. I think it's reasonable to go the way that the U.S. is going or the way the European Union is going in saying that victims basically have a right to restitution, and we have to work out the best way to do that restitution from the offender.

In addition, you may.... I don't think your other witnesses have referred to the evaluations of restorative justice. Now, restorative justice sounds like a soft option, but you have many parents of murdered children in Canada who see that as the right way to deal with the issues.

I'm a researcher. I look at the evidence. Yes, I have a particular interest in the victim issue, and the evaluations of restorative justice show that when you do it right, not only is the victim happier, because they're more empowered and have all sorts of options to ask for things—to get information, to get truth, and to get a feeling of what's going on—but it also reduces recidivism.