Victims of violent crime have five principal needs independent of safety concerns and their need for information and support relating to the criminal justice process: (i) financial assistance, (ii) counselling, (iii) acknowledgment of victimization, (iv) an opportunity to relate what happened to them in a hearing, and (v) individual assistance in navigating through the network of victim programs and services.
Financial assistance to victims of violent crime remains an important component in the spectrum of Ontario's victim services and programs and should not be eliminated. The importance of providing financial assistance to victims of violent crime has been long recognized by the international community through the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. While money can never erase the emotional or physical consequences of violent crime, it can be of invaluable assistance to victims recovering from the impact of such crime. The term "financial assistance" should replace "compensation" as it is a more appropriate phrase that more accurately reflects the purpose of criminal injuries financial programs.
Crime victims are often the forgotten individuals of the criminal justice system and are sometimes treated with less attention, respect and sensitivity than they deserve. The government should appoint an independent Victim Advocate who reports directly to the Legislature and who is mandated to speak out on behalf of victims of violent crime.
The government should adopt the current Victim Quick Response Program (which provides immediate financial assistance for emergency expenses, funeral expenses and short-term counselling) as the model to legislate a permanent administrative early financial assistance program for victims of violent crime.
The government should reconstitute the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board ("CICB") as the Criminal Injuries Financial Assistance Board ("the Board"), which would adjudicate applications for financial assistance made by victims of violent crime pursuant to a legislative framework similar to the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act. Victims should be able to request an oral hearing if that is how they prefer the Board to consider their application, although the final decision with respect to an oral hearing will remain with the Chair of the Board. The Board should be able to continue to make awards for pain and suffering, which serve as an important gesture of societal compassion and acknowledgment of victimization. Victims should be given the benefit of the doubt where the evidence before the Board is equally balanced. An offender or an alleged offender should not participate in a Board hearing. Correspondingly, there should be no right of subrogation in respect of financial assistance given to victims, and the publication of information identifying the alleged offender in cases where there has been no criminal conviction should be statutorily prohibited.
Victims of violent crime often find it overwhelming to navigate through the network of victim services and programs to determine which agency has the services most appropriate to their needs or to make the necessary contacts or complete the necessary paperwork. Within the spectrum of existing victim services and programs, the government should also provide victims of violent crime with individualized assistance to access appropriate victim services and programs.
The interests of victims of violent crime would also be better served if they could apply to either (or both) financial assistance program by submitting one application form to a single organization such as a newly constituted Financial Assistance Branch within the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat ("the OVSS"). The Ministry of the Attorney General ("the Ministry") should consider renaming the OVSS as the Victim Services Division, which name better reflects its role within the Ministry.
A Financial Assistance Branch could also centrally administer both financial assistance programs. The CICB appears to have often been treated as an orphan of government. By integrating the provision of administrative support to the Board within a single Victim Services Division, several benefits would be realised. These include encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas and resources, and fostering a consistent approach to the delivery of victim services and victim financial assistance.
The police usually play a very important role in the lives of violent crime victims, and are well situated to provide them with information about various victim services and programs, including financial assistance programs. Police should also provide, on a timely basis, information required by either financial assistance program. The government should address both these issues through province-wide protocols that should eventually lead to legislative requirements.
The Ministry should set performance measures for the early financial assistance program and, in conjunction with the Chair of the Board, should do so as well in respect of the Board. These would serve as important tools to identify areas requiring attention before problems spiral to the extent that occurred with respect to the CICB, which led to the Ombudsman's report last spring. The Ministry should also publish an annual report of victim services and programs, including a summary of revenues and expenditures relating to the Victims' Justice Fund. Finally, the Ministry and the Victim Advocate should regularly review the evolving needs of victims of violent crime.
Ontario has been, and continues to be, a leader in providing assistance to victims of crime. Moving away from providing victims of violent crime with direct financial assistance is not consistent with a truly compassionate, fair and responsive approach. Financial assistance is a significant and positive feature of Ontario's victim services and programs and should be continued. Further, as the Ombudsman's report, Adding Insult to Injury, makes clear, the Ministry must provide adequate and consistent funding to ensure the integrity of its financial assistance to victims of violent crime.