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Letter addressed to the Honourable Ahmed Hussen regarding Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime Program Reply from the Honourable David Lametti on publication bans

July 21, 2021

 

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
142 Promenade due Portage

Gatineau, Québec, J8X 2K3

 

Subject: Follow-up RE: Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime Program

Dear Minister Hussen:

An important part of my mandate as Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime is to provide recommendations to the federal government regarding its laws, policies and programs in an effort to make them more responsive to the needs of victims and survivors of crime. In June 2017, the OFOVC undertook a systemic review of the Federal Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children (PMMC) grant. The goal of the review was to identify key recommendations to the federal government that would increase the grant’s uptake and ensure that the funds allocated to assist victims were being dispersed to the largest extent possible.

The review found that in the first three years of operation of the grant, the cost of operations was about 14 times greater than the amount paid out to the parents of murdered and missing children. Out of the $23 million budgeted for the grant, a mere $170,520 was paid out to applicants.

My Office made 15 recommendations in this systemic review, with a focus on three key areas:

  • Enhancing the application process and victim assistance
  • Increasing program flexibility and broadening the eligibility requirements
  • Exploring possible barriers to uptake and, looking forward, exploring options to better support victims of crime. 

In May 2018, the federal government replaced the PMMC grant with the Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime (PYVC). Although I was pleased to see some important changes made to the program and the passing of Bill C-30, I believe more work must be done to ensure the fund meets the needs of the population it is meant to serve. It is my view that the scope of the program is still too narrow and is not reaching enough Canadians. For example, from 2018-2019, Statistics Canada reports 364 homicides from ages 0-24. That is at least 364 families that could benefit from the grant, not including the countless youth that go missing, some of whom may be the result of probable criminal offences such as trafficking. Therefore, I urge you to revisit the Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime and I recommend the following changes to expand its reach:

  • Completely remove the criterion precluding eligibility in cases where the child was "a willing party" to the crime that led to their death. The term "willingness" is extremely vague, subjective and unmeasurable. This criterion lends itself toward victim blaming by placing part of the accountability for the death of the child or youth who was murdered on the victim (i.e., gang violence) or their parents/guardians. No matter their age or social circumstances, no one consents to being murdered.

 

  • Revisit the requirement for the crime to be the "result of a probable Criminal Code offence" and consider expanding eligibility to help parents whose children are victims of crimes beyond homicide or being taken, such as sexual exploitation, or recognizing other forms of victimization that may require a parent to take time off. For example, children and youth who have a history of running away may be overlooked by law enforcement even though they are often escaping violence and abuse at home. Law enforcement may not view/classify their disappearance as the “result of a probable Criminal Code offence.” It is also important to note that people who go missing are much more likely to be victimized in some way. As stated in the Missing and Missed report by Commissioner Epstein, "a significant percentage of missing persons will be exposed to the risk that they will become victims of foul play or of other crimes or criminal exploitation." As such, their families who report them missing deserve access to the benefit. Furthermore, law enforcement is required to fill out and stamp a form confirming that the child is missing or deceased as a result of a probable Criminal Code offence. This may cause delays in processing the application for parents who should otherwise qualify for the grant.

 

  • Consideration should be given to extending the grant to circumstances where the child was victimized outside of Canada. Over the years, victims and survivors of crime have voiced concerns to my Office regarding the lack of financial support available to Canadians victimized abroad. Currently, in order for families to access the fund, the death or disappearance must have occurred in Canada. Thus, if a child were murdered or disappeared while travelling outside of Canada, the PYVC grant could not be accessed. Although the Department of Justice Canada’s Victims Fund remains available to those who have been victim of a violent crime abroad, it does not apply to those who have disappeared nor does it cover lost wages.

 

  • Provide an annual report on PYVC benefit activities to improve transparency. To my knowledge, the only reporting publicly available on the PYVC is information on departmental program spending. Without any formal reporting on results, it is hard to understand why the program continues to be underutilized. As proof, in 2019-2020, only $349,930 out of the 10 million dollar budget was paid out to parents, which is not a substantial improvement from the amount paid out in the original PMMC grant. Annual reports on the grant's activities will help to show where funds are spent and to identify any gaps in the administration of the benefit.  

 

  • Using a GBA+ lens, explore whether any populations are facing barriers to accessing the grant. Demographic details are necessary to analyze data on who is accessing these funds. For example, according to Statistics Canada Indigenous Peoples represented 23% of victims of homicides from 2018-2019. What percentage of families accessing the benefit within those years did this demographic represent? Additionally, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has released information that shows Indigenous women and girls continue to be overrepresented among Canada's missing and murdered women . Indigenous victim service providers confirm that it is not unusual for an Indigenous parent to be off work for two to three years following the disappearance of their child . Recently, the Ottawa Homicide Project found that homicide disproportionately affects racialized communities, Black and Middle Eastern victims accounted for 45% of all homicides from 2010 – 2020. The families of these young victimized men need to be considered. More work needs to be done to see what demographics are accessing the benefit and what barriers are present for those who are not.
  • Create more awareness of the benefit. According to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act , the PYVC program has only been shared with 71 family and victim services agencies and 162 police-based VS. The last Victim Services Survey, which took place in 2011-12, reported having 760 victim service providers operating in Canada . Information regarding the PYVC benefit must be shared with all victim service providers across Canada in order for professionals to share information with and raise awareness, among potential applicants. According to documents obtained, the average number of applications received per year is a mere 31 . This low number speaks to a need for a follow-up review of the benefit.

I encourage ESDC to implement the recommendations listed above. As stated in a report presented by the HUMA committee, people's experiences of grief are profound and unique. The grieving process is not linear. Improvements to expand the reach of the Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime would result in more families having access to this grant, and it being administered in a more victim-centred way. I would be happy to meet with you to further discuss this important matter.

 

Respectfully,

 

Heidi Illingworth

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

 

CC           The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada