Farewell statement from Heidi Illingworth, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Being the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been more than a job for me. It is and was about who I am and what I care about. After three years as the Federal Ombudsman, I will be leaving this position October 1.
I leave with gratitude from a position I have absolutely loved and that has taught me so very much. Over my term, I have been privileged to work with an incredibly supportive group of colleagues. I am proud that our team evolved to include more members from diverse backgrounds. I also had the privilege of working closely with many knowledge keepers who shared their experiences, expertise and advice through three Advisory Circles (Indigenous, Academic and Service Providers) that I established. These community leaders have inspired our work daily with their unparalleled talents, commitment and constant drive for excellence.
Personally, the many victims and survivors of violence who have reached out to us for support have motivated me daily. Their lived experiences and personal journeys have been a source of inspiration and have also tugged at my heart.
When I was first appointed as Ombuds, I felt at home immediately because of our mandate and the people we serve. My vision to improve the experience of victims in the justice system and to ensure their legislated rights are respected has never wavered. Rather, it has grown as we have pushed the envelope on what is possible.
I set out to increase outreach and awareness of the OFOVC in remote communities. We went to hear directly from victims and survivors of violence across the North and organized community forums in Yellowknife and Whitehorse. This work is not done.
We brought victims’ rights and issues to the forefront of stakeholder discussions by holding six successful webinars. We engaged regularly with our stakeholders and kept them well informed about our work via social media and our newsletter. We commissioned a number of research papers by Victimology experts to ensure that all of our work is based on evidence and made this research accessible to frontline practitioners.
This past year, OFOVC answered a record number of calls from the victims and survivors of crime that we serve and developed our first-ever client survey to gather feedback about our service delivery and how we can improve.
Increasing public awareness and understanding of victims’ rights and the work we do at the OFOVC is critical and I did so by making presentations at many conferences and meetings. I also sought to prevent victimization across Canada, and am excited to share that we helped fund a social media campaign targeting youth that is forthcoming in early 2022.
As Ombuds, my goal was to deliver achievable recommendations and make submissions to government that would bring meaningful change for victims and survivors of crime. I truly believe implementing the recommendations I made will lead to a much needed change of culture in our criminal justice system so that all those within it are treated with dignity, equality, and respect for their statutory rights.
And, while I’m proud of all these accomplishments, they aren’t about me. They happened because of the time survivors, victims, academics and frontline service providers took to share with us. You trusted, supported, and partnered with our team as we’ve taken bold leaps and achieved some audacious goals.
A year ago, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the coming into force of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). To mark that anniversary, we released our analysis of the implementation of the Act in a Progress Report. Our findings were that the CVBR has largely failed to empower and support those harmed by crime. I called for a Parliamentary review of the Act and issued 15 recommendations to the federal government for legislative and administrative measures.
Just a few weeks before the 2021 election, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights initiated a study into the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. I had the honour of appearing before this Committee and sincerely hope that the legislated review of the Bill will take place this fall. Victims deserve to be respected as integral participants in our criminal justice system, and officials must take real responsibility for delivering their rights. We will advance justice for all Canadians only when we truly empower victims to assert their rights.
I’m not going far. I will remain steadfast in my work to support victims and survivors of crime as they move towards healing and wellness. And, I will continue to advocate on their behalf as I take on new responsibilities as the Executive Director of Ottawa Victim Services.
Thank you for your advice, wisdom and support to me in my role as the Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime