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Letter addressed to Jennifer Oades, Chairperson of the Parole Board of Canada on strengthening the trauma-informed approach to interactions with registered victims

 

August 31, 2020

BY EMAIL

 

Ms. Jennifer Oades, Chairperson
Parole Board of Canada    
410 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0R1
Email: Jennifer.oades@pbc-clcc.gc.ca               

                                                                                

Dear Ms. Oades,

 

I hope you are keeping safe and well during the pandemic. I am writing to you as I believe the Parole Board Canada can take steps to strengthen the trauma-informed approach to interactions with registered victims with a view to improve services, policies and practices to minimize further harm and trauma to victims. Recently, we received complaints whereby PBC Board members and regional staff:

  • Imposed some conditions on an offender, but allowed him to live in the community right beside where the victims live/frequent, or where they pass through often. Now, the victims are required to inform the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) 48 hours in advance, if they wish to travel within this area in order for the offender’s parole officer to ensure the offender is not present. This causes significant distress and anxiety to the victims who feel it allows the offender to know their whereabouts. Their sense of personal safety and psychological well-being are further negatively impacted and this should be a consideration in an offender’s safe reintegration.
  • Issued a warning to victims at the beginning of a teleconference hearing telling them not to disclose any information about the hearing to the media. The victims experienced this warning as a veiled threat, which caused a lot of additional anxiety and further harm. The language used by PBC regional staff was intimidating. While there are procedural rules to be explained to victims by the hearing officer, for example to ensure they do not record the hearing, victims do have the right to speak to the media to share their experience at the hearing, if they wish to do so and this should be made clear.
  • Failed to provide consistent management of the media, particularly in high profile cases during Covid-19. PBC regional staff previously coordinated media participation and had a spokesperson present for the hearing, which was very helpful and appreciated; however, they left the victims to manage it all during the pandemic. The burden of media inquiries should not be placed upon victims’ shoulders, as this adds anguish and suffering when they are trying to cope with the emotional weight of the hearing itself.  PBC staff should be available to answer media inquiries related to a hearing and the Board’s decision.

Trauma-informed approaches are policies and practices regarding the provision of services and programming that—particularly when they are also violence-informed—work to minimize harm to victims of violence, and aid healing and justice. Implementing trauma-informed approaches across sectors provides a common conceptual framework that enhances efforts to develop integrated multi sectoral responses. These approaches also create opportunities for systems, and those who work within them, to improve the services they provide to people impacted by violence.1

Trauma-informed approaches are built upon a foundational understanding of the impact of violence and trauma on people’s lives, health and behaviours. Such approaches require fundamental shifts in how systems are designed, how organizations function, and how service providers engage with victims. Trauma-informed approaches are relational; they recognize that individuals’ experiences of violence relate to how systems respond to them. By integrating understandings of trauma into all elements of policy and practice, trauma-informed approaches prioritize victims’ emotional and physical safety, as well as facilitate victim control over and responses to violence. This integration also builds on their strengths and aids in recovery.2

As such, in order to strengthen PBC's trauma-informed response to registered victims, I recommend the following:

  1. Given that “victim” is defined in the CCRA to include a person who has suffered emotional harm and that s. 133 (3.1) of the CCRA requires Board members to consider safety concerns raised by victims, PBC Board members should be directed to expand their understanding of safety to also include victims’ emotional safety. Victims’ mental health and psychological wellbeing form a significant part of them feeling safe or not.   This will ensure that PBC Board members are delivering trauma-informed decisions that prioritize both victims’ emotional and physical safety.
  2. Direct PBC Board members to always provide written reasons when they do not impose conditions asked for by victims in (3.1), as required under subsection (3.2). The provision of clear information and reasoning helps victims understand why the decision was taken and will result in less frustration and loss of control by victims.
  3. PBC regional staff revise the language in the warning issued to victims prior to their remote teleconference participation to ensure it is sensitive and trauma-informed. The language used in communications with victims should be non-threatening and focused on what specific or practical things victims can and cannot do so they have a clear understanding.
  4. PBC regional staff provide consistent media relations and management, especially in high-profile cases, so that registered victims do not face additional burdens or pressures to provide hearing results or outcomes to media.

I welcome the opportunity to further discuss these recommendations with you and to working together to ensure victims’ needs are met.

 

Respectfully,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

 

[1] and [2] https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rd9-rr9/p2.html


 

Response

 

September 17, 2020

 

Hi Heidi,


I hope you are well and staying safe.   Sorry for the delay in responding.  I have been on annual leave.

Your message to me dated August 31st contained several recommendations for strengthening the Parole Board of Canada’s (PBC or the Board) trauma-informed responses to victims of crime. The PBC is committed to implementing trauma-informed responses with both offenders and victims of crime while providing clear and transparent decisions. Your correspondence is timely, as the Board is currently undertaking a number of initiatives to enhance our policies, practices, and training from a trauma-informed perspective.

In recent years, the Board has delivered training on the subject of trauma for both Board members and staff working with victims of crime. For example, in July 2020, Sylvie Blanchet, our Executive Vice-Chairperson, sent a training communiqué to all PBC Board members, Regional Directors General and members of our management team on “Trauma-informed Approaches to Hearings”. Training on trauma has also been provided to Board members and select PBC staff at many of the Board’s Annual Training on Risk Assessment (ATRA) sessions. For example, at the 2019 ATRA, Dr. Shelley Brown delivered a workshop on trauma-informed approaches in parole hearings and Ms. Gail Joly and Dr. Audrey Rousseau delivered a plenary session on trauma-informed approaches for Indigenous Offenders, which included a discussion on individuals who have been victims of trauma. In 2018, Dr. Lori Haskell presented a workshop on “Trauma-informed Parole Board Hearings”, which included information on victims of trauma as well as the effects of trauma on the brain. In 2017, Board members and select staff attended the Annual Paroling Authorities International (APAI) conference. At this conference, Board members were able to attend various workshops on trauma, including “Giving Victims a Voice in the Parole Process in Canada”, “The Impact and Implications of Intergenerational Trauma Effects on Criminality, Victimization, and Development”, and “Implementing Gender-Informed Strategies in Parole Release and Supervision”.

As you may recall from previous correspondence, the PBC has been working with the Centre for Excellence in Communication on developing a communication tool for PBC staff who work with victims of crime to ensure that they integrate best practices in trauma-informed communication. We have undertaken extensive consultation in developing this tool, including with victims of crime, victim serving organizations, and partners from all levels of government, including your office. I am happy to inform you that we are now in the final stages of this project and you will receive a copy of the tool itself for final comments or recommendations prior to its implementation. Your perspective is valued and will ensure that we are moving forward as an organization in a manner that is responsive to victims’ needs.

Board members are trained to take a holistic perspective when imposing conditions, considering all relevant factors related to the case. When imposing conditions to protect the victim, Board members take into account the victim’s statement describing the physical and emotional harm caused by the offence, as well as any safety concerns raised by the victim. In terms of their written reasons for decision, to ensure fairness and understanding, Board members provide reasons for the decision that summarize their overall findings and assessment of the offender’s risk to re-offend, and a clear rationale for their decision. The PBC is currently exploring policy and training initiatives to strengthen its trauma-informed approach to decision-writing, particularly in cases where conditions requested by the victim were not imposed.

In terms of hearings held remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, I regret that some victims have indicated to you that they felt the language used to facilitate their remote participation by telephone was threatening. Prior to commencing any parole hearing, as is our usual practice, individuals are briefed on how the hearing will be conducted. When implementing new remote options to accommodate victim attendance, a disclaimer was added to this briefing to ensure that all observers and assistants, including victims, understand PBC’s legal obligation to safeguard private and confidential information discussed at the hearing. Language used in this disclaimer has been adapted for clarity during the course of the pandemic, including feedback received directly from victims. In particular, the disclaimer was revised to make it clear that the Board is referring specifically to restrictions as it relates to recording the hearing or playing it on speakerphone for other individuals.

While I sympathize with victims and their family members who find the media spotlight leading up to and following a hearing to be intrusive, this is unfortunately largely outside of the Board’s control.  As you are aware, the PBC is limited in the information it can provide to media under the legislation.  I would like to reassure you that the Board  continues to explore options for expanding the number of participants, including media, who can participate in a hearing remotely.  

Thank you again for your recommendations.

Stay safe,
Jennifer