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Evidence of meeting #36 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

Ross Toller  Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada
Alexandra Budgell  Counsel, Department of Justice
Susan O'Sullivan  Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

I fully agree with you on that. In any event, when these people return to the community, these are things that they will be required to do as citizens. We all have to pay our debts. It's normal. I find it really interesting that you talked to us about balance and that the victims also understand just how important it is that the offenders, the people who committed offences, do not do the same thing in society, and that it's all balanced. It's a fairly healthy and interesting perspective.

I know that back in the 1990s, victims had access to compensation. This unfortunately no longer exists in certain provinces and territories because of a lack of funds. Do you think that if we reinvested in this type of fund, at the federal and provincial levels, that it would help and touch more victims?

4:55 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

That's a very complex and complicated issue. I believe it was 1992, and I think decisions were made. I think it would perhaps be best to ask the provinces and territories that carry that burden.

One of the things I can tell you is that I've had the privilege of being in different areas and talking to different people across this country, and every province and territory is unique and has unique challenges. They understand their communities. I recently had the opportunity to be up north and to see not only some of the challenges they encounter there but also some of the really inspiring things going on up there to support victims of crime. So I think those are the kinds of conversations that probably should be involving the provinces and territories.

I can tell you that from a victim's perspective, what they do see is huge variability across the country.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. Sullivan.

Ms. Young.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Ms. Sullivan, thank you for coming here today and sharing some of this with us.

I want to ask if you have a particular case that you want to share with us today, to shed further light on this bill and the impact it would have on these victims, as well as on the rest of Canada.

4:55 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Obviously, I can't speak to any individual cases due to confidentiality, but I can speak to the issue of what we often hear. If a victim contacts our office and it's not a federal issue, we will get them to where they need to go to get the best information. So we will receive calls about issues, be they support issues or financial support issues, that are the responsibility of the provinces. So we will direct them to the appropriate office at the provincial-territorial level, particularly if it is specific to child support or that kind of family support issue.

When it comes to the costs of crime and the lack of resources for victims, I thank you for that question because what we're trying to do is put a human face on it. Anybody listening here can think of someone they know who has been a victim of crime. There are a lot of great things happening in our country as well in terms of the front-line support that is available and the people who are doing phenomenal work delivering those supports. We don't want to lose sight of that. What we want to make sure of is that they have the resources to do that and to deliver that service. And that's why we have to be looking, if I can say this, at respecting the levels of governments' mandates, but also thinking together strategically on how best to mobilize and ensure that those supports are in place. It's exactly what this committee is looking at.

So what we have here with this legislation, which we would support, is a very practical priority list, which we understand is in line with the provinces' priorities. But I think we have to look at better ways in this country of supporting victims of crime with tangible financial supports, because if somebody does need to get some very practical services, again there is variability across the country depending on what the provinces and territories can put in place. Also, quite frankly, there are different issues depending on the remoteness of areas and access. What I am hearing about is issues around capacity, and training people to do that as well.

There is whole series of issues that we have to look at. But at the end of the day, if you were a victim of crime in this country, you should be able to get the supports you need. Again, I go back to the issue of every victim being unique. Those supports may be financial support for some, or housing, or support through the court process, or long-term counselling. So there are some very practical needs that victims of crime have, which we need to be ensuring they have access to in a very timely way.

May 1st, 2012 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Might I follow that up then with a question around balance and accountability, which you talked a lot about? With regard to the accountability aspect, do you often find that the inmate will step forward to make restitution, if they have been awarded something or have their own resources?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

We haven't specifically had this issue in the office of an award to an offender and any monetary.... Most of our issues have been around restitution or an inability to get access to that. I can say—though I almost hesitate to, because I've had one opportunity to speak with a group of offenders and I don't like to make an assumption based on one meeting—that I have had the opportunity to listen to offenders on some of these issues, and some of them did bring forward the issue that they had no mechanism. They wanted to be able to provide.

Again, I couch those comments; that was only on one meeting with a group of offenders, but I thought it was interesting. We shouldn't be making assumptions either on what the offenders can or cannot do, because it was fairly apparent from my one meeting that some of them wanted to be able to do more in that way.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Right. So we should also be looking at the broad spectrum of the fact that offenders also want to use this mechanism.

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Again, I hesitate to generalize based on one meeting, but my message is that sometimes we don't want to be making assumptions about what they can or can't do or what they want to do. At the end of the day, and I listened to Mr. Toller on this, we need to have mechanisms in place that allow for...if there are.... This legislation is example. I was asked if it should be broader. Yes, it should be. We should be looking at restitution, in general, in this country as well. And how are we supporting victims of crime financially to get the resources and the supports they need, when they need them?

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Are there any down sides to this bill?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

From my perspective, it's basically saying that the priorities are in line with what the provinces see, and I think most Canadians would think that if there is an award, it should go to pay to support offenders' victims and issues around that.

I understand there were some other comments in other areas that aren't my expertise. I'll leave those to people who are better prepared to answer them.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Based on your extensive experience in community, as well as with victims, would you agree with the prioritized list that has been proposed?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Yes. My understanding is that there were discussions with the provinces and the territories, and that it's very much in line with what their priorities are as well.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Thank you for your time.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have another 30 seconds. We'll just give them to Mr. Scarpaleggia.

Mr. Scarpaleggia, you have seven minutes.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I'll step forward, as they say.

Thank you for your appearance and testimony.

To continue along the lines Ms. Young was following, in terms of the established order in the bill for distributing the proceeds from court awards.... Actually, I'll go off on a tangent. Mr. Lauzon was quite adamant in insisting that the families of offenders are victims as well. He talked a lot about that. I'm just curious as to how you view those comments. Obviously, they were not the object of the crime per se, but they have to live with the consequences. The idea here isn't to rank the victims. Obviously, the victim of the crime is the bigger victim.

How do you see this idea that the family members are victims as well?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I think you can look at that statement. I think it's reflective of the data that I used in my opening comments. When I used the data from 2009 for homicide, they indicate that 33% of the victims are family.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I'm talking about secondary victims, if you will, the affected family.

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I think what's presented here in this bill is the right priority. I don't want to minimize any of the comments that talk about—

5 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

No, I'm not asking you to. But do you agree that in some way they're secondary victims and that's not to be ignored?

5 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I'm here to speak about victims of crime. When you talk about victimization, there are many aspects to that, but I think that the priority laid out here is appropriate and is very much in line with what....

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Maybe my next question isn't pertinent, but once we've gone through the priority ranking, the bill says that if there's any money left over, it can go to the offender.

Do you think that residual amount should maybe be topped up or go to the direct victim? Do you think it should go to the dependants of the offender, who are secondary victims? How do you feel about the idea that if an amount is left, it can go into the offender's bank account?

5:05 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I commented earlier that when we look at balance, after the courts have viewed a set of circumstances and information and have made a decision to award, we need to consider the needs of victims of crime and the payment of those debts. Therefore, when it comes to the balance, the priority will be there to ensure that the victims' needs are met through restitution, the federal victim surcharge, and child support. The remainder is something that the courts have determined.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

So you would say that the restitution order is just. When a court makes a restitution order, I imagine its says that the victim should be compensated so much. It's an imperfect world. They're trying to compensate the victim justly, but as you say, the victim lives with this for the rest of their life.

I suppose it's the best the court can do in certain circumstances, but we all know it is nowhere near enough. It never is enough. If somebody loses a family member, maybe there's restitution, but it never comes close to compensating for the loss of that family member. I understand that legally it's probably “correct”, but we all believe that the victim should get more.

You don't need to answer, because you mentioned why it's not appropriate for you to answer. That's why I'm saying that maybe the residual amount should go back up the list and compensate the victims, over and above the restitution order, or compensate the secondary victims, who are the dependants. They've lost their breadwinner because the person has committed a crime and is in jail, and so forth.

Anyway, you don't need to answer that.

5:05 p.m.

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I think there's a bigger issue here. From what I've seen from the data that we can gather, there aren't going to be huge amounts of money. The bigger issue here is what are we doing in this country to ensure that we have proper restitution in place, that we are gleaning restitution and looking for ways to ensure that victims have the tangible supports they need? We need to be looking at avenues to do that.

There are some recommendations in the report we have put forward, Shifting the Conversation.

We also need to be looking at better solutions, on top of those, to ensure that victims have access to the services they need in a timely way. I could go on, but I know you have time limits. Sometimes services are available, but there are huge gaps and expertise is required, depending on the type of counselling the person is getting. There are people who specialize in trauma counselling.

I don't want to get too much into the service level, but we need to look at frameworks in our country that ensure that we properly look at restitution, that we look at other ways to ensure there are tangible supports in place for victims of crime. It's much bigger than what could potentially come out of these awards, from what I'm hearing on the data.