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Letter addressed to the Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney regarding Victims of Crime Fund Bill 16

 

BY EMAIL


June 30, 2020

The Honourable Jason Kenney
Premier of Alberta
Legislature Building
307 - 10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

 

Re: Victims of Crime Fund Bill 16

 

Dear Premier Kenney,

As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my mandate is to provide awareness of the needs and concerns of victims of crime, and to promote, identify, or facilitate access by victims of crime to related programs and services.

I am reaching out to you to in response to concerns raised with my Office about the potential impact of Victims of Crime Fund Bill 16, which has proposed changes to the Victims of Crime Act, RSA 2000 c. V-3 (AVCA). Of particular concern are the proposed amendments that would allow for the diversion of funds meant for victim services towards public safety measures, specifically to police services and Crown attorneys.

The mandate of my Office concerns matters of federal jurisdiction, and a percentage of the AVCA Fund stems from Criminal Code victim surcharges. Section 737(5) of the Criminal Code requires that victim surcharges be used for providing assistance and services to victims of crime, as determined by the government of the province in which the surcharge is applied. While I understand that there is a surplus of money in the AVCA Fund, I hope that the proposed changes will not result in fewer services to victims and survivors of crime.

The Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power Declaration, adopted by the UN in 1985, applies to all Member States, including Canada. This Declaration outlines certain services that should be available to victims of crime, including compensation programs, social and medical assistance, restitution, and access to justice. Section 737(5) of the Criminal Code was based upon this Declaration, and in order to observe the standards outlined, they must be met across the country. This is why it is imperative that, through a collective effort with our partners at the provincial and territorial levels, we ensure that victim surcharges stemming from Criminal Code provisions respect this commitment. To use victim surcharges for any purpose other than providing victim services would contradict the spirit of this Declaration, and by extension, of Canada’s responsibilities towards victims of crime. I also note that federal-provincial cost-sharing programs relating to victim services were eliminated when victim surcharges were introduced in the Criminal Code. This means that it is even more vital that funds generated from victim surcharges be directed to victim services.

The value of well-funded programs and services for victims of crime cannot be overstated. At my Office, we regularly hear from victims and survivors of crime who feel that interactions with the criminal justice system lead to re-traumatization and secondary victimization. Victims are afraid that they will not be believed, that they will face stereotypes and victim-blaming, and are intimidated by the often cold and unresponsive bureaucracy that they face when choosing to engage with the criminal justice system. Many victims do not report crime as a result, and this is particularly true for victims of sexual assault; we know that 95% of victims will not report the crime. At all stages within the criminal justice system, victims feel that their rights, their needs, and their dignity come second to that of the offender who harmed them.

The availability of, and access to, victim services can make an incredible difference in a victim’s experience as they work through the trauma of victimization. Victims do not ask to be victimized, and the onus should not be on victims to determine the next steps. Victim services play an essential role by helping victims decide if they want to report the crime, to informing victims of processes and procedures, supporting them through police and court proceedings, and connecting or providing victims with counselling and other health or emotional supports in the aftermath of victimization. Not only do they provide victims with such essential services, but they also signal to victims that their experiences matter within the criminal justice system. Victims and survivors of crime need and deserve well-resourced, accessible and available supports.

I certainly hope that these considerations will factor into the decision-making process regarding Bill 16. The goal, which I am sure that we share, is to facilitate access by victims and survivors of crime to much-needed services and supports that can make the difference between traumatic or positive interactions with our criminal justice system. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further.

Respectfully,

 

Heidi Illingworth

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime/l'Ombudsman fédérale des victimes d'actes criminels
heidi.illingworth@ombudsman.gc.ca