Letter to Minister Bill Blair regarding use of videoconferencing in parole hearings, issues with the RCMP, Clare’s Law, and funding for CSC’s restorative opportunities program
August 20, 2020
The Honourable Bill Blair
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
269 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
Cc The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Dear Minister Blair,
Thank you for making time to meet with Dr. Nadia Ferrara, Executive Director, and myself on July 24, 2020. As you know in my role as Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, I work to identify emerging and systemic issues that negatively affect victims of crime and recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to victims’ needs. We informed you about the issues that victims have been contacting my office about, and I wanted to summarize the matters we discussed and recommendations I made.
Firstly, we discussed victim participation at Parole Hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assuming the current pandemic continues with closures of prisons and distancing measures in place for public health, I believe that the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) must find a way to allow for victims and other observers to attend parole hearings through video conferencing. This will allow for participation that is more meaningful by having a visual of the offender and their body language in response to the questioning of Board members. While I am aware that parole hearings include the exchange of sensitive information, many criminal courts and other tribunals have modernized and adapted their technological capacity and infrastructure in light of the pandemic. As I am confident that PBC can find a solution that accommodates remote participation for victims and meets Government of Canada security requirements, I respectfully recommend that you direct PBC to work towards implementing secure remote videoconferencing as a permanent option for participation for all victims going forward.
Secondly, we discussed RCMP referrals to victim services, which have traditionally been quite low. Because the RCMP are many victims’ first point of contact with the criminal justice system, their referrals to victim services are extremely important. I recommend that you direct the RCMP commit to tracking the number of referrals made to victim services in all jurisdictions, and to reporting publicly on the numbers of offers accepted and declined by victims. Pursuant to my meeting with RCMP Commissioner Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Brennan earlier this year, I understood that collecting this data would be relatively simple as the infrastructure is largely in place. In my view, there is a clear need for federal criminal justice officials to measure and report on respect for victim’s rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). We also discussed how the RCMP consistently records no complaints under the CVBR, despite this being highly unlikely. To address this gap, I recommended that you direct RCMP leadership commit to disaggregation of complaints made by victims of crime about police officer conduct relating to their rights. Finally, we discussed concerns voiced to my office by frontline anti-violence workers regarding the RCMP’s Sexual Assault Investigation Review Committees not truly being external advocate-led reviews. In order to improve external oversight, which should be led by community-based sexual violence subject matter experts, I recommend you direct Commissioner Lucki to update RCMP policy and practices to reflect the CACP’s Canadian Framework for Collaborative Police Response on Sexual Violence.
Thirdly, we discussed concerns regarding funding for programs that support human trafficking victims. We have heard that many centres that have been critical in supporting human trafficking survivors have had to close their doors waiting for new federal funding programs to be announced. Human trafficking is a serious form of victimization that may be linked to missing persons and it certainly affects Indigenous women and girls at disproportionate rates. While I commend the recent announcement of $19 million for project-based funding, I recommend that sustained funding be provided to community-based organizations before more important centres are forced to close, leaving their clients unsupported and vulnerable.
Fourthly, we discussed Clare's Law, which was first enacted in Canada in Saskatchewan, and allows residents to ask police for information on an intimate partner's past violent or abusive behaviour, including criminal convictions and a history of police responding to domestic violence complaints. This information can allow women to make informed decisions about partners while possibly helping to prevent unnecessary tragedies from occurring – or reoccurring. While the RCMP has opted out of the program, I note that this leaves many residents in areas without a municipal police force unable to access this potentially life-saving service. I recommend that the RCMP comply with Clare’s law within its obligations under the federal Privacy Act, which may encourage other provinces and territories to follow suit with similar legislation.
Finally, we discussed Correctional Service of Canada’s Restorative Opportunities program. Registered victims are often informed that it exists, but upon pursuing it further, are informed that it does not have adequate funding to bring the parties together. The healing benefits of restorative justice for both victims and offenders is well documented, and in some cases restorative justice may even be an effective way to reduce recidivism. This program allows victims who wish to do so, the opportunity to directly address the harm caused to them, to seek accountability and express their ongoing needs through outstanding facilitators. I therefore recommend that funding for this program be increased substantially, in order to make this a meaningful and viable option for registered victims who may wish to partake.
I look forward to your response on these issues, and to working with you to ensure we can progress towards positive change for victims and survivors of crime in Canada.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime