Mr. Chair and members of the committee, good afternoon.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today about Bill C-350, which concerns offender accountability.
As you may know, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was created to provide a voice for victims at the federal level.
We do this through our mandate, which includes: receiving and reviewing complaints from victims; promoting and facilitating access to federal programs and services for victims of crime, by providing information and referrals; promoting the basic principles of justice for victims of crime; raising awareness among criminal justice personnel and policy-makers about the needs and concerns of victims; and identifying systemic and emerging issues that negatively impact victims of crime.
The office helps victims in two main ways: individually and collectively. We help victims individually by speaking with victims every day, answering their questions, and addressing their complaints. We help victims collectively by reviewing important issues and making recommendations to the federal government on how to improve its laws, policies, or programs, to better support victims of crime.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting me here today to speak to the payment of court-ordered debts owed by offenders, and its impacts on victims of crime.
Bill C-350, if adopted, would help to ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe, including spousal and child support, restitution, the federal victims surcharge, and civil judgments. This bill will ensure that offenders who are successful in obtaining monetary awards from government are mandated to pay their court-ordered debts.
With respect to restitution and the federal victims surcharge, this bill provides a mechanism to further hold offenders responsible for providing reparation to victims for the harm they have caused, and to promote a stronger sense of responsibility and accountability. Similar to the garnishment of spousal and child support already occurring at the federal level, this bill will go further to ensure that offenders are responsible and accountable for their debts.
Our office supports measures that seek to better address the needs of victims of crime. Given that Bill C-350 seeks to hold offenders more accountable and ensure that victims of crime receive the money they are owed and have access to services following a crime, our office supports its passage into law.
To provide some context related to the financial impacts of victimization, a recent study by the Department of Justice estimates that the total tangible and intangible costs of Criminal Code offences in Canada in 2008 were approximately $99.6 billion. When looking at the combined costs measured in the study, the financial burden on victims, which can include lost wages, medical attention, and stolen or damaged property, is estimated at 83% of the total cost of crime. This, frankly, is unacceptable.
Given this burden, tangible supports, including restitution and the federal victim surcharge, become extremely important to victims. They are a means through which to recover loss and to promote access to much needed services. They also serve to acknowledge and provide reparation of harm to victims on behalf of offenders.
Further, when one considers that victimization often occurs within the family context, the payment of spousal or child support may also be extremely important for victims. A statistic that illustrates the familial ties between federal offenders and victims is the number of homicides solved in 2009, where 33.6% of victims were killed by a family member. As victims of crime are estimated to bear 83% of the cost of crime and federal offenders are often family members of victims, measures to ensure that victims receive the debts owed to them, including spousal and child support, and restitution, are necessary to address the needs of crime.
To elaborate, restitution is a payment made by an offender to the victim to cover expenses resulting from the crime, such as property loss or damage, or personal injury. Where a restitution order is made, the offender must pay the amount ordered directly to the victim named in the order. If the offender does not pay the amount ordered, the victim can file the order in civil court and use civil enforcement methods to collect the money.
Legal advice and representation is often needed to pursue these methods of collection, which are cost-prohibitive for many. For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down moneys owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming. This cannot and should not be the reality. Victims do not deserve to be revictimized. It is for this reason that measures that encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are a necessary and welcome step forward.
In addition to restitution, the federal victim surcharge is also an important payment made by offenders to provide financial support to provincial and territorial victim services and to promote a link between an offender's crime and his or her accountability to the victim. The government recently made an announcement to introduce legislation to double and automatically apply the federal victim surcharge. This is indeed a very positive step forward in response to recommendations made by our office.
While the doubling and automatic application of the surcharge will serve to better meet the needs of victims, mechanisms to ensure that offenders pay the surcharge, such as Bill C-350, are necessary to help ensure that provincial and territorial victim services are given the funding they need and deserve. This bill is one small measure that will contribute to offender accountability.
However, measures to ensure that offenders pay their court orders, regardless of whether they have received a monetary award from government, need to be implemented to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their debts and for providing reparation of harm to victims. To this end, my office has made several recommendations to government to promote the reparation of harm to victims and to mandate that offenders be held accountable to victims for their court orders.
These recommendations were made in our most recent report, Shifting the Conversation, and they include the following: requiring judges to consider restitution in all cases involving a victim and to state their reasons for not ordering restitution, similar to provisions for the federal victim surcharge; giving victims the right to make an application for restitution and the right to appeal if an application is refused; providing victims with detailed guidelines on how to document their losses for the purposes of restitution; removing the requirement that a restitution amount be readily ascertainable, or allowing a court to order a “to be determined” restitution order if the costs are not fully known at the time of sentencing; examining the ability of the federal government to deduct restitution awards from federal government payments, such as GST rebate cheques and employment insurance payments; and holding offenders accountable by including conditions to ensure that they fulfill their court orders for restitution and the federal victim surcharges by authorizing the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts from an offender's earnings.
These recommendations to government are aimed at promoting reparation of harm to victims and mandating that offenders be held accountable to victims for their court orders.
In conclusion, if adopted, Bill C-350 would help to ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe, including spousal and child support, restitution, the federal victim surcharge, and civil judgments. This bill will ensure that offenders who are successful in obtaining monetary awards from government are mandated to pay their court-ordered debts.
From a victim's perspective, ensuring that an offender pays his or her financial debts, including restitution and the federal victim surcharge, upon receipt of a monetary award would seem to be common sense. In fact, many victims, and even Canadians at large, would perhaps be surprised to know that this is not already the case.
For this reason, we support the passage of Bill C-350, but we encourage members to understand that increasing offender accountability in relation to court-ordered restitution and the federal victim surcharge will require more comprehensive solutions above and beyond the measures proposed in this bill.
Merci. Je serai heureuse de répondre à vos questions.