Letter to Minister David Lametti related to Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs)
December 5, 2019
The Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Re: Family Information Liaison Units
Dear Minister Lametti,
As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my role is to recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to victims’ needs.
I am writing to you regarding a program funded by Justice Canada’s Victims Fund: Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs). I understand that the additional funding for this service will only be available until March 31st, 2020. I recommend that Justice Canada permanently fund these Units, as they help Indigenous families to access available information about their missing and murdered loved ones from multiple government sources. The Units are a best practice in my opinion, as they are available in every province and territory and build on the existing victim services frameworks in each region.
The FILUs address a critical need for culturally sensitive victim support. In Canada, the rate of self-reported sexual assault of Indigenous people is almost triple that of non-Indigenous people, according to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization. The rate of sexual assault self-reported by Indigenous women was more than triple that of non-Indigenous women. Violence against Indigenous women and girls is not only more frequent but also more severe. Between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly seven times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous women. Tragically, since 2000, the numbers have continued to rise.
I support funding the FILUs permanently because they provide a critical infrastructure to gather and share up-to-date information, including police investigations, coroners' reports and inquests, and court proceedings. This service ensures the varied informational needs of family members are addressed in a coordinated, compassionate, culturally safe, and trauma-informed manner. These Units also ensure that families have knowledge of the existing networks and programs to assist and support them in finding healing and wellness, including referrals to victim services, cultural supports and grief and trauma counselling. The FILUs inform all families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls the criminal justice system, police procedures, child and family services, and health and social services.
FILUs provide a “one-stop information service” for all families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Since the National Inquiry, the Units have also provided long-term supports to families seeking information and help. They can address outstanding questions families have about the loss of their loved ones.
In my travels across Canada, I have heard from many FILU staff and Indigenous survivors about how important this resource is, as it helps families to navigate the complex justice system and to access valuable information and treatment. For example, in the Northwest Territories, I heard that FILUs have had a big impact on the community, as they have been able to locate files for families that were not accessible previously. Some families chose the FILU worker to accompany them for support to testify at the National Inquiry. This is a testament to the connection and rapport workers have developed with families.
I believe the federal government has obligations to Indigenous peoples across the country, especially with regard to ensuring that victims and survivors of violence have culturally appropriate resources available to them in order to help them heal from their loss and victimization. It is important to recognize that Indigenous victims’ rights are indeed human rights. Permanent funding of the FILUs will ensure that Indigenous families can access justice in the aftermath of violent victimization.
If I can provide additional information to encourage this consideration, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to your response and to continuing to work with you to bring about positive change for victims and survivors of crime in Canada.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
May 11, 2020
Dear Ms. Illingworth:
Thank you for your correspondence of December 5, 2019, concerning your recommendations for a range of victims’ issues. I regret the delay in responding.
At the outset, I also wish to thank you for your congratulations. It is a true honour for me to continue to serve in this important position. For as long as I continue to do so, I will remain committed to advancing a progressive vision of Canada, based on the rule of law, while ensuring that our justice system is fair and accessible to all.
In your correspondence, you raise matters concerning the State of the Criminal Justice System 2019 Report and the importance of data on victims in the criminal justice system. I note your suggestions for areas where additional victim indicators could be collected to provide a more thorough examination of the criminal justice system. Our government recognizes the value of criminal justice system data, including data specific to victims of crime. For this reason, the Department of Justice Canada provided the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) at Statistics Canada with funding to develop the Canadian Victim Services Indicators pilot survey to explore the collection of key victim indicators through existing provincial and territorial data. As a result of this project, the CCJS has developed online data tables of police-reported counts of victims of violence for each province and territory, which will be released on an annual basis.
As you point out, the majority of victim services are provided by the provinces and territories as part of their responsibility for the administration of justice. This creates challenges for the development of comparable victim services measures at the national level. Department of Justice Canada officials will continue to work with their provincial and territorial colleagues and the CCJS to explore new opportunities for future data collection specific to victims of crime.
You also recommend that the Report include information regarding compliance by criminal justice professionals with the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). All federal departments and agencies whose work relates to victims’ rights under the CVBR have established a CVBR complaints mechanism and publish an annual report on complaints received. I am pleased that the Department’s CVBR report for 2018-2019 is now available at www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/cvbrcm-mtpccdv/19/index.html. I have shared your suggestion that CVBR data be included in future reports with departmental officials.
I note your comments regarding the Canadians Victimized Abroad Fund (CVAF). As you are aware, I have recently received a similar request from the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. I appreciate that you are taking the time to add your voice to this discussion.
Periodically, the Department of Justice Canada undertakes reviews of the criteria related to financial assistance provided through the CVAF, including the maximum amounts available under the health and travel portions of the program. Your recommendation will help inform future reviews.
Finally, I would like to address your recommendation that the Department of Justice Canada permanently fund the Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs).
As you know, FILUs help Indigenous families to access available information about their missing and murdered loved ones from multiple government sources, and address a critical need for culturally sensitive victim support. I am pleased to tell you that the Government is committed to extending FILU funding for another three years.
On December 4, 2019, I attended the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, where I was finally able to make this commitment before the attendees. As I told them, we have heard that the FILUs have been an extremely important resource during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to help ensure that families and loved ones have somewhere to turn for help finding answers. We know the need for answers and support has not ended, and we want to make sure these important services continue to be available moving forward. Please be assured that addressing the needs of victims and survivors of crime is a priority for our government, and that we recognize the importance of reliable victim data. I appreciate the time you have taken to provide comprehensive recommendations concerning the criminal justice system and the needs of victims and their families. I would like to take this opportunity to commend you for the important work that you do on behalf of victims and survivors in Canada. I look forward to working with you to explore ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies, and processes more responsive to the needs of victims and survivors of crime.
Thank you again for writing.
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada