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Remarks: Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Bill C-591, Ombudsman Sue O’Sullivan An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

Sue O’Sullivan,
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
April 2, 2015

Introduction

  • Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss Bill C-591 An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

Mandate

  • I would like to begin by providing you with a brief overview of my Office’s mandate.
  • Created in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime:
    • receives and reviews complaints from victims;
    • promotes and facilitates access to federal programs and services for victims of crime by providing information and referrals;
    • promotes the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime;
    • raises awareness among criminal justice personnel and policy makers about the needs and concerns of victims, and
    • identifies systemic and emerging issues that negatively impact on victims of crime.
  • The Office helps victims in two main ways: individually, and collectively.
    • We help victims individually by speaking with victims everyday, 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.

    Support for the Bill

  • Bill C-591 seeks to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act to ensure that offenders convicted of the murder of a spouse or parents are not able to collect the victim’s Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security benefits.
  • I support this Bill for its recognition that offenders should not benefit in any way from the commission of a crime.
  • For victims of crime the impact of a violent death of a loved one is traumatic. Victims should not suffer further victimization and anguish knowing that the offender who responsible for killing their loved one is receiving their benefits.
  • Although the bill identifies an important policy gap, I believe that it can be further strengthened with some clarification around notifications.
  • Context

  • Let me begin by providing some context.
  • The most recent Canadian homicide survey reports that police investigated 543 homicides in 2012.
  • According to a Statistics Canada report, about 20% of solved homicides in 2012 involved intimate partner homicides . Among the 143 family-related homicides in 2012, 20% were committed by children against a parent, which amounts to approximately 28 cases .
  • Among the victims of intimate partner homicides, Bill C-591 would only apply to those who meet the standards of pension contribution.
  • That being said, Bill C-591 will have a significant impact for the loved ones of those victims, and that alone makes Bill C-591 a worthwhile undertaking.
  • Manslaughter Cases

  • In October of last year, I submitted recommendations for improving Bill C-591 to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Developments and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
  • I, as well as others, recommended that the Bill be amended to apply to convictions of manslaughter as well as murder. I am pleased that this recommendation resulted in an amendment to the Bill.
  • That being said, I appreciate that the Bill will not apply to cases manslaughter that result in a suspended sentence. This provides some flexibility in exceptional circumstances where it may not be appropriate to prohibit the payment of CPP or OAS benefits.
  • Notifications

  • One outstanding issue with the Bill that I would like to address concerns the process for notifying the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, that an individual convicted of murder or manslaughter may qualify to receive the CPP or OAS benefits of the victim.
  • In reading Bill C-591, and in following debates in the House of Commons, it appears that that the onus to notify ESDC will be on the victims
  • Relying on victims to notify ESDC is problematic. The requirements related to estate planning and financial benefits can be very difficult to manage on their own, and even more so following the traumatic loss of a loved one through homicide.
  • I strongly encourage that a mechanism be established through which ESDC would receive notice without assigning responsibility to victims. Any measure to alleviate the administrative burden on victims is worth exploring.
  • At the very least, the federal government will need to work with provinces and territories ensure that victim serving agencies and law enforcement agencies inform victims of any notification requirements.
  • Receiving this information will be crucial for victims to ensure that the offender will not be able to financially benefit from the death of their loved one.
  • Conclusion

  • In closing, I would like to thank the Committee for its consideration of Bill C-591 and for its work in examining this important issue.
  • I believe this bill closes an identified gap in legislation and helps to ensure that offenders are not able to financially benefit from their crimes.
  • I thank you for your time and look forward to any questions you may have.