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Letter addressed to the Honourable Bill Blair and the Honourable Marc Garneau regarding the creation of a federal victim support office for terrorism and extremist violence

 

 

August 9, 2021

 

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
269 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0P8

&

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2

 

Re: Creation of a federal victim support office for terrorism and extremist violence

 

Dear Ministers:

Canadian citizens have long been victim to terrorist attacks, both at home and abroad. Despite this long-standing phenomenon, I believe there remains a pressing policy gap when it comes to supporting these Canadians in their recovery and healing over the long-term. With multiple jurisdictions involved, and little to no consistent federal policy direction, these vulnerable individuals report to my Office that they frequently fall through the cracks, without having their needs met or respected.

With transnational terrorism ever-present and growing, it is more important than ever for Canada to establish an office at the federal level to provide coordinated and consistent support services and after-care to Canadians victimized by extremism. Extremist groups are becoming increasingly transnational in their capabilities and reach. The U.N. Security Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) reported in April 2020 that there has been a 320 per cent rise in attacks carried out by ideologically motivated right wing extremists over the past five years, and that Australians, Europeans, and North Americans are most at risk. The U.N. Security Council reported in January 2020 that the Islamic State is presently in the midst of re-establishing itself in Iraq and Syria, where it is “mounting increasingly bold insurgent attacks”. In nearby Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to launch attacks and is presently considered to be “stronger now than at any point in the last eighteen years” (Maizland & Laub 2020). Finally, Hezbollah has expanded its reach throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe (Levitt 2020). Hezbollah has stockpiled weapons and explosives at bases around Europe, which in 2020, the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator called a “clear and present danger to the U.S. [and its allies]” (Coughlin 2020; Karam 2020).

I believe comprehensive, federal, victim-centred policy and a consistent approach is overdue in this area. The needs of victims are well established in the research literature and they include: emergency response, respect and recognition, protection, support including information, access to justice, and compensation and restoration (C-CAT, 2021). In my Office’s work with affected families and survivors, they also frequently report lacking:

  • Physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual safety;
  • Support and consideration for special populations like children, or cultural groups who are affected;
  • Connection to peers who are similarly victimized;
  • Medical services to treat visible and invisible injuries, and the provision of free rehabilitation/therapy services;
  • Pro bono legal advice and representation;
  • Comprehensive financial assistance (to cover funerals, lost earnings, emergency expenses related to the victimization, allocation of donations);
  • Free mental health supports and counselling over the medium and long-term;
  • Advocates/system navigators at the community-level who can seek accountability for affected families and survivors.

Canada should look to how other Five Eyes countries; namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, have operationalized their responses in order to help survivors recover and normalize their lives following incidents of mass victimization. Creating a federal office to provide assistance that recognizes the long-term nature and implications of extremist violence will help prevent and mitigate negative psychosocial outcomes that can arise from unhealed trauma. Such an Office could track such incidents globally and at home; provide necessary outreach and practical/financial/legal support to victims and survivors; and provide ongoing research and policy development to ensure a comprehensive, consistent, victim-centred approach. I therefore recommend that Global Affairs Canada and Public Safety Canada work as federal partners to jointly establish and operate a federal victim support office for terrorism and extremist violence.

 As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my mandate is to increase awareness of the needs and concerns of victims of crime, and to promote fair and equitable treatment for all victims and survivors of crime across Canada.

I look forward to your response and providing any assistance required in the consideration for this recommendation. Please find attached a recent two-part report commissioned by my Office - Developing a Modernized Federal Response Plan for Canadians Victimized Abroad in Acts of Mass Violence: How Canada can address the needs of cross-border victims based on international best practices.

Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth (she/her/elle)

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime/l'Ombudsman fédérale des victimes d'actes criminels