Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before the committee to brief you on our most recent special report and to discuss, more generally, important issues impacting victims of crime in Canada. The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was created to give a stronger voice to victims. By inviting me here today, you are taking an active role in engaging the government on victims' issues, and I thank you for that.
As some of you may know, our office has a mandate that enables us to help victims on both an individual and a national scale. Directly, we talk with victims every day, helping them resolve their complaints and answering their questions. Indirectly, we recommend change that will ultimately help all victims get better support, fairer treatment and a stronger place in the justice system.
My goal here today is to share with you a new perspective on some issues you are no doubt familiar with. I do so knowing that real change can start in this room. It was a number of years ago that the committee on justice that looked at the Corrections and Conditional Release Act recommended the creation of an office like ours, so I understand how real change can begin. I remember sitting in a small courtroom in 1995 in Prince George, British Columbia, with the mother of a murdered child and his sister. He was murdered by an individual on federal parole. When the inquest looked at the circumstances of his death, and also at how Mrs. Fichtenberg was treated by the system, one of the recommendations that came from that process was the creation of this office.
I can remember working with members of Parliament from various parties, including who was then a fairly rookie member of Parliament, the Honourable Peter MacKay, when he put the motion in the House of Commons. I worked with Liberal MP Ray Bonin as he presented a bill in the House of Commons that had wide support from all members of the House of Commons, and I remember the day that the Minister of Justice and Minister of Public Safety appointed me Canada's first ombudsman.
It is the power of committees like this one that can take serious issues and help make things better for victims and all Canadians. This is my last week as ombudsman, and I can say unequivocally that I am proud of the work we have done so far. We have resolved some very difficult complaints efficiently and compassionately, and I have to give credit to the National Parole Board and Correctional Services of Canada for working with us to resolve those issues. I have worked in this area for 15 years, and I can say without a doubt that the way we handled those cases and the way we resolved them probably wouldn't have happened without the creation of this kind of office.
We made recommendations to the government on Internet child sexual exploitation, the sex offender registry, victim fine surcharge, more training for judges, and restitution. I am proud to say the government has taken issue on many of these points. We played an instrumental role in helping the RCMP resolve a decade-old problem with privacy issues in making referrals to victims about services, and we are working with them to help finalize a national policy that reflects our recommendations. But there is more to do. The report that you have in front of you makes 13 recommendations to the government on how we can feasibly and effectively achieve meaningful change for victims of crime in Canada by dealing with the federal corrections and parole system.
Some of these recommendations are a more formal presentation of points that I made to the government in the past, and I was pleased to see that Bill C-43 incorporated amendments to address some of these issues. While that bill would have significantly reformed the current corrections and parole system and enhanced the role of victims within that system, there are a number of important issues that remain unaddressed. And though the bill died with the prorogation of Parliament, I would suggest that we now have an opportunity to get that bill right. By incorporating a few changes, we can strengthen the bill before it is re-introduced so that we can be more effective for all Canadians.
While I am certainly happy to answer any questions you may have about that report, this will be my last opportunity to address the committee as ombudsman, and there are a couple of broader issues to touch on in the time remaining in my opening remarks.
I think it is important to understand that we talk about victims of crime. Their needs and concerns are complex, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions and there are no easy solutions. They are long-term, they are difficult, and sometimes we have to challenge our own notions of what they look like.
This is national victims of crime awareness week, so it's a very fitting week for me to be here. Yesterday at the event and today at a different event, I listened to victims of crime talk about their needs and their concerns and heard victim service providers talk about the challenges they face in trying to meet those needs on behalf of victims. They talked about lack of services, or not being aware of services, lack of information. They talked about treatment by the system; in court, not being respected in their opinions. And yesterday the Prime Minister spoke at the opening of the symposium for national victims of crime awareness week and he talked as well about the imbalance we have in our system that focuses so much on offenders and not so much on victims.
I was a little disappointed, however, that he proceeded in his speech focusing almost exclusively on how we treat offenders. On the day we were supposed to remember and recognize victims of crime, he talked about Karla Homolka, Clifford Olson, and Graham James. And I can tell you that when he left and a discussion began among those victim service providers and within those workshops, the issues we talked about were very different. They were very basic about trying to meet the needs of victims of hate crime, trying to meet the needs of male victims of sexual abuse, trying to raise awareness and prevent crime.
You'll know that roughly 2.5 million crimes were reported in Canada in 2008. That is reported crime, different from what the actual crime rate is. Of that 2.5 million crimes, fewer than 5,000 offenders went to federal prisons. If all we talk about is who's going to our federal prisons, then we ignore a large number of victims of crime. We asked the government to commit funding in different areas.
We had asked them in this most recent budget to commit $5 million—a relatively small amount of money when we are talking about federal budgets—to a model called child advocacy centres. Now, if you are from Edmonton or Montreal or Niagara, you will know what those centres are. They are centres that meet the needs of child victims who are going through the system. They bring together everybody who provides services to that child and they provide it in a child-friendly environment. It is an American model. They have over 900 centres in that country; we have three or four in this country. We had asked the government to provide a small fund that would help communities establish those. I have been to Victoria, Toronto, Winnipeg.... I know Halifax is working. There are communities across this country trying to get a centre for their children. There were no discussions and we have not talked a lot.
One of the things I had hoped we would do in our office is look at the area of sexually trafficked young people. We know that disproportionately young aboriginal girls are being lured away from reserves, and they are being trafficked across this country. There are young boys who are selling themselves on the street for shelter and for food. We need to have services, programs, and shelters to help those kids get off the street. They are not the kinds of victims we like to think about. I know we have some officers in the room. They can often be very difficult individuals. They are belligerent, they don't want help, they won't ask for help, they don't think they need help. But these kids are being sexually assaulted every single day. We often don't think of them as victims of crime, but they are perhaps among the most vulnerable.
We don't have any programs that will help prevent the repeat victimization, multiple victimization of people. We know in a recent StatsCan report that 2% of the Canadian population experiences 60% of all violence offences. If we could target our efforts to those individuals who we know are victims, who we know are more at risk of being victims again, and try to help focus our efforts on prevention, we can actually prevent individuals from being assaulted or sexually assaulted, or having their homes broken into again.
The research tells us, and in my experience in working with victims for over 15 years, what matters most to victims is the process. They expect information from those involved in the process and the system. They expect to be respected, they expect information, and they expect to have a voice and for people to listen to that voice. If we do all those things well, what the research tells us is that victims are actually less focused on the outcome, which means the sentence. So if we do better by victims throughout the process, they are less concerned about what the sentence is. They certainly expect people to be held accountable, and they expect appropriate sentences, but they will no longer judge the value of the harm done to them by the time we put somebody in prison.
Governing is about making very difficult choices—and I have a lot of respect for those of you who go into politics, because it is about making difficult choices—and in this current fiscal environment those choices are more difficult than ever. I think the Prime Minister said before this budget that it was the most difficult because he had to say no so many times.
As my final recommendation to the Prime Minister and to the government, we have asked that the government refocus its efforts and its priorities on trying to meet the real needs of victims of crime. Sentencing and the “get tougher on crime” agenda will not meet the real needs of victims of crime, who are suffering every day, who call our office every day, who have trouble making their mortgage payments because they have lost their job, whose kids are acting up in school because they can't get counselling. These are real challenges that victims of crime face every single day. Obviously we need to have prisons, and we need to have programs for offenders who are in prison. I think we need to spend, as the Prime Minister talked about yesterday, an equal amount of effort and time on the needs of victims as we do on the needs of offenders.
I'll cut it short there, Mr. Chair, and hopefully try to answer some questions the committee might have.