A Voice for Victims
In its third year, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) continued to work to provide victims of crime with a voice and to ensure that the Government met its commitments to victims.
The Office once again saw a rise in the demand for its services, including a 98% increase in its website visits.
In addition to a number of important recommendations the Office made to the Government of Canada on victim issues, it also developed and released its first-ever special reports.
The first, Every Image, Every Child, focused on Internet- facilitated child sexual abuse, and made nine recommendations to the federal government on how to address it. The report received much support and interest from victims, victims' groups and academics. Following the release of the report in June 2009, the Government introduced Bills C-46 and C-47, which both addressed some of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman. The Government has also announced funding for Child Advocacy Centres, responding to another of the Report's important recommendations.
The OFOVC's second report, Toward a Greater Respect for Victims in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, provided an overview of victims' rights and 13 recommendations on how to enhance these rights. The Report highlighted the imbalance that exists between victims and offenders' rights, and emphasized the need to treat victims with compassion and respect.
Throughout the year, the OFOVC took the opportunity to reach out to stakeholders at conferences and other forums in order to help raise further awareness of the Office and its services, as well as victims' rights and concerns in Canada.
In addition to reaching out to victims, stakeholders and the media, the OFOVC engaged with parliamentarians in order to bring about positive changes for victims in Canada. For example, the OFOVC appeared before several parliamentary committees on topics such as the Missing Persons Index and the DNA databank, the National Sex Offender Registry, and enhancing victims' rights in Canada.
Progress towards positive change
In 2009-10, the OFOVC made recommendations on the following issues.
Privacy Laws and Victim Referrals
According to the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Canada's privacy laws do not permit RCMP officers to give victims' names and contact information to victim service organizations without the victims' consent.1 As a result, victims may never become aware of the programs and services designed to help them cope with their victimization or understand the criminal justice system. To address this, the OFOVC recommended that the Government of Canada amend the RCMP Act to outline the obligations RCMP members have to victims of crime and to introduce a new policy on victim referrals that would provide an opportunity for RCMP officers to provide proactive, active and passive referrals, depending on the circumstances.
Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Military
Despite improvements to the environment of women in the military, it is impossible with the current data to determine the reality of sexual assault and harassment in the Forces and how secure victims feel coming forward. In August 2009, the Ombudsman wrote to the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Peter MacKay, to recommend that the total level of sexual violence in the Canadian Forces, both reported and unreported, be determined. He asked the Minister to consider the unique challenges that some recruit victims face in reporting and to ensure that existing support and services available were meeting victims' needs. The Ombudsman also urged that the recommendation put forth by the 2008 Statistical Overview of Sex Offences Reported to Military Police2 concerning a critical review of existing educational programs on what constitutes sexual assault and what supports are available for victims be implemented immediately.
Missing Persons Index
Approximately 100,000 people are reported missing in Canada each year. While the vast majority of these cases are resolved within 30 days, the remaining cases can drag on, extending the trauma and anxiety for the victim's family members and loved ones. In order to assist these victims in finding closure, the Ombudsman sent a letter to the then Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, recommending that the development of a Missing Persons Index (MPI) for victims be given high priority. In his letter, the Ombudsman outlined how an MPI would it make it possible to compare the DNA profile of a missing person or close biological relative with unidentified human remains from jurisdictions across Canada, enabling law enforcement to resolve cases more efficiently. In addition to his written recommendation, the Ombudsman appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to express support for the development of an MPI and to offer his assistance with the Committee's study on the provisions and operation of the DNA Identification Act.
Victims of Hate Crime
In January 2010, the OFOVC made a formal submission to and appeared before the Inquiry Panel of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. In his submission, the Ombudsman recommended that the Government consider amending the Criminal Code to allow for community victim impact statements, since hate crimes attack an entire community based on a certain characteristic that ultimately define their identity as a member of a particular group. The Ombudsman also recommended that the services available to victims of hate crimes be substantially enhanced and expanded since secondary trauma to the entire community may decrease the ability of the victim's family or community to offer support due to their own feelings of victimization.
On August 16, 2010, a new Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Sue O'Sullivan, was appointed to a three year term. Ms. O'Sullivan looks forwards to continuing to work diligently to effect positive change for victims of crime.
- 1 In 1999, the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner advised the RCMP that "the disclosure of victim information for the purposes of the Victim Service Program does not qualify as consistent use of information under paragraph 8(2)(a) of the Privacy Act."
- 2 Canadian Forces Military Police, Statistical Overview of Sex Offences Reported to Military Police, Strategic Criminal Intelligence Section (Ottawa: Author, 2008), p. 12.8 Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Statutory Review of the DNA Identification Act, p. 20. Accessed August 10, 2010, from http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collection_2009/parl/XC76-402-1-1-01E.pdf.