I was asked last spring by then Attorney General Michael Bryant to make recommendations after my retirement as Chief Justice of Ontario about the role of financial assistance for victims of violent crime within the spectrum of victim services and programs provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General ("the Ministry"). This request followed the release of the Ontario Ombudsman's report Adding Insult to Injury into the operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board ("the CICB"). 1
The Ministry currently provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime through two separate programs. The CICB hears applications for financial assistance for expenses and losses, as well as pain and suffering, relating to criminal injuries. The Victim Quick Response Program ("the VQRP") is an administrative pilot program established by Ministry policy in July 2007 that provides immediate financial assistance for emergency expenses, funeral expenses and short-term counselling.
Over the past few months, I have met with dozens of crime victims, victim advocates and victim service workers and I have received over 40 written submissions. I have also met with senior staff and adjudicators at the CICB, with senior staff with the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat ("the OVSS"), and with the board members of the Office for Victims of Crime ("the OVC"). I hosted a seminar with senior academics who have studied and written about crime victims and criminal injuries financial assistance. I have also consulted with senior criminal injury financial assistance officials in other jurisdictions and have reviewed the relevant literature.
As a result of my review, I have come to the conclusion that the Ontario government should continue providing financial assistance to victims of violent crime through programs that are similar to the CICB and the VQRP. The international community, through the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power ("Declaration of Basic Victim Principles"), has long recognised the importance of providing financial assistance to victims of violent crime. 2 Ontario is a leader in providing assistance to victims of crime, including financial assistance to victims of violent crime. The financial assistance remains a very important component in the spectrum of Ontario's victim services and programs. While financial assistance can never erase the emotional or physical consequences of violent crime, it can be of tremendous aid to victims recovering from the impact of such crime.
At this point, I want to reflect on the term "compensation". This term in the context of a criminal injuries financial program for crime victims is a misnomer since money can never compensate a victim for the trauma inflicted by violent crime. "Compensation" implies damages akin to those in a civil tort action, but the CICB awards were never intended to replicate civil damages. "Financial assistance" is a more appropriate phrase that more accurately reflects the purpose of criminal injuries financial programs.
I am further of the view that the Ontario government should appoint a Victim Advocate who reports directly to the Legislature. Having worked in the criminal justice system for more than 50 years, including five years as a Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, 11 years as Chief Justice of Ontario, and 10 years as Attorney General for Ontario, I have long had considerable concern about how victims of crime are treated. They are often the forgotten individuals of the criminal justice system, sometimes viewed as third party interlopers in a system that is focused primarily on the criminal trial and the rights of the accused. While Ontario has taken significant steps in the past few decades to assist victims of crime, much of this assistance is linked to supporting victims through the criminal proceedings, and does not address the significant needs faced by victims of violent crime that are unrelated to the prosecution process. A Victim Advocate, consistent with Ontario's public commitment "to ensuring victims of violent crime have a strong voice" 3, would advocate on behalf of victims of violent crime in Ontario.
- Ombudsman of Ontario, "Adding Insult to Injury" Investigation into the Treatment of Victims by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, (Ontario: Office of the Ombudsman, February 2007) [Ombudsman's Report]..
- GA Res.40/34, 29 November 1985, A/CONF.121/22/Rev.1, s. 12..
- Ministry of the Attorney General, Backgrounder, "Victim Services in Ontario" (March 2, 2007), online: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/news/2007/20070302-cicb-bg.php.