Madam Chair and honourable members, the right honourable clerk, and fellow presenters, thank you so much for having me here.
Bill C-32 provides victims of crime with a right to information, a right to participation, a right to protection, and a right to restitution.
Many people think of victims as adults who, given the right supports, will be able to more easily navigate and to be better represented in our judicial system with this new bill. However, on behalf of the board of directors, I'm here to represent child and youth victims who disclose their experiences at the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre Niagara, as their needs are addressed by the victims bill of rights.
Because we are speaking about children, we must begin with the right to participation, something not automatically assumed for children to be a right.
When we think of the needs of child victims, we must recognize the great courage it takes for children and youth to come forward and to speak with adults about their experiences. These are young victims of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, those who have experienced Internet luring, and those who are victimized due to the witnessing of violence.
There is a particular kind of courage needed, especially when these crimes against their persons have been perpetrated within the adult world and more often than not carried out by people they know and trust. Further to this courage, we must recognize their unique developmental needs within the judicial system as child and youth victims when they're expected to disclose their experiences to yet another group of adults who they hope will redress the wrongs done to them.
We also need to be cognizant of the secondary victims, those non-offending family members who are often reeling from the new information that the most vulnerable member of their family has been violated in some way.
Child advocacy centres are at the forefront of providing coordinated services that increase the sense of safety for children and youth and their families by recognizing the age-specific developmental needs required to participate in the justice system.
The Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre applauds the Government of Canada for recognizing the need to create the victims bill of rights. This bill strengthens and underpins the collaborative mandates of child advocacy centres across Canada.
The federal government has shown its commitment to supporting victims of crime, particularly the most vulnerable among us—our children and youth—with its support of the development of new child advocacy centres and enhancements of existing child advocacy centres across the country.
As CACs aim to minimize the trauma of being a child and youth victim of crime, the government's commitment to enact this bill emphasizes the critical importance of ensuring that our laws, programs, and policies reflect the basic principle that every victim, no matter what age—but especially our children, who depend upon the adult world to speak for them—should be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect and can in fact effectively participate in the justice system.
In regard to the right to protection, there is, based on police reports, a significant increase over the last couple of years of incidents of sexual violations against children. It raises an alarm that while other crime may be down, sexual assaults and in particular sexual exploitation crimes against children are increasing, so for these victims it's of little comfort to say that crime is down overall.
As the incidence of child victimization increases, so does the need to protect and strengthen the disclosure opportunities for child victims. Our centre is named after Kristen French, one of several victims of Paul Bernardo. The Paul Bernardo case revealed the need for more collaboration among investigative services.
Likewise, the Cornwall public inquiry and the Jeffrey Baldwin inquiry revealed the need for accountability on behalf of victim safety throughout the justice system, among policing, child welfare, mental health services, forensic evaluation, and judicial professionals.
By addressing through collaborative protocols the specialized developmental nature and unique circumstances of being a child and youth victim of crime, children, youth, and their families should be better able to navigate the justice system at large.
While the justice partners have mandates requiring the gathering of evidence, protection, and the well-being of child victims, and the justice system seeks to redress the wrongs done and balance the scales of justice between offenders and victims, we believe this new bill, as it finds its real-time footing in the courts, will serve to enhance the already-begun collaboration of these services on a nationwide scale to address the special navigational and protection needs of child and youth victims.
Where child advocacy centres can create standardization to the extent possible across the country, they also facilitate the ability to share personal information where there is a legitimate need among collaborating partners involved in investigating these crimes against children and families. These collaborative measures increase protection from further potential harm and trauma while reducing costs for medical attention, lost wages, missed school days, and personal out-of-pocket expenses of being a victim who might otherwise have to travel to many separate places for these services.
CACs attempt to close the loop on the coordinated response of investigators by further connecting children, youth, and non-offending family members with secondary services for mental health and other costs that may be associated with victim autonomy and protection, such as housing, education, and financial supports.
On the right to information, each CAC across Canada—there are 12 now established, 10 more operating as pilot projects and in development, and four communities undertaking feasibility studies—seeks to offer varied levels of collaborative service to child and youth victims, depending on financial, geographic, service capacity, and jurisdictional differences. While there are local community and provincial variations, these services include the provision of information about the investigation process, a safe place for children and youth to disclose abuse in recorded interviews, referrals to community services, short-term counselling, court preparation and accompaniment, assistance in the completion of victim impact statements, and corrections information. Child advocacy centres ensure that these services are carried out by those trained in child and youth specific and trauma-informed victim engagement skills, that they operate in close co-locations or one location, and play a coordinating role to assist the families as they navigate the sometimes overpowering justice system. This approach provides critical and accessible information to child and youth victims and their non-offending family members.
Child advocacy centres ensure standardization, fair treatment, and consistency of jurisdictionally appropriate information across the country. Both the recognized benefits of child advocacy centres and comprehensive research indicate that early and effective investigation and intervention reduces the long-term personal and social costs for victims and their families. CACs balance the priorities of child and youth best interests, well-being, and finding truth and justice with accessible education and understanding of the justice system.
But this brings me to the most difficult topic of the bill, and that is restitution. The work of the CAC staff can greatly reduce the emotional and mental harm to child and youth victims, and their approach can also improve the quality of evidence brought forward in trials. Better evidence can lead to more charges laid, a higher rate of guilty pleas and convictions, and more appropriate sentences and a greater understanding of the potential for long-term support needed by victims in their recovery from such crimes. Effective early investigation and intervention reduces social and personal costs that commonly arise from child abuse left untreated.
The cost of untreated or ongoing abuse impacts were estimated to be close to $15 billion in a 2004 study out of the economics department of the University of Western Ontario. This study did not factor in the cost of child abuse through Internet luring and, due to the age of the study, remains a conservative estimate. The cost of child abuse, therefore, is not just to the victims but to society and its social support systems as well, although the broader burden remains on the shoulders of victims and their families. On this large scale of costs, and without significant changes in our coordinated approach to respond more adequately to victims, individual restitution is almost unattainable, and so restitution and prevention must go hand in hand.
While restitution is a necessary aspect of gaining justice, the greater longer-term hope is a reduction overall in the number of first-time and chronic experiences of child abuse and youth victims of these crimes. Restitution is also, then, a philosophy of justice that seeks to mitigate the expense of crime that victims must endure, while leading to a prevention of and reduction in costs to further victims.
As children's and youth's needs are addressed early on, we have the potential to change the child's life trajectory and increase the awareness adults, children, and youth have about abuse itself and its signs and symptoms, by providing this vital access to disclosure models that are child and youth focused
It is evident that the federal government is committed to ensuring child and youth victims and their families have the proper resources and support when dealing with the various professionals who are tasked with ensuring justice. We applaud the government's continued effort to enshrine children's rights.
To serve the cause of justice, restitution must include the mitigation of real costs, an increase in early intervention, and the creation of standards of victim care in the aftermath of crime. We believe CACs speak to an enhanced model that meets these rights on a basic level, if children have adequate access to disclosure in the first place. But we also need a mandated collaboration to meet these rights in real time and in real lives.