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
Ms. Jennifer Oades, Chairperson
Parole Board of Canada
410 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1A 0R1
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime