Section 5 - Non-financial Victim Services And Programs

In keeping with Ontario's long tradition of local delivery of victim services and programs, virtually all the non-financial services and programs for crime victims in Ontario today are delivered by local organizations funded in whole or in part by the OVSS. These provide crime victims with invaluable assistance and support and serve as a model to other Canadian and international jurisdictions.

A. Overview of Ministry's victim services and programs

A chronological overview of these non-financial victim services and programs is set out below.

1980Sexual assault/rape community and hospital based crisis centres
These centres, located in about 30 communities across Ontario, provide a variety of supports for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including counselling, public education and advocacy.
1986Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
The Ministry funds a legal service for assaulted women at this multi-service agency for female victims of violence.
1987Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services Program
VCARS is a community based program that is delivered by local agencies using trained volunteers who provide immediate on-site crisis intervention as well as community referrals for further assistance.
1987Victim/Witness Assistance Program ("V/WAP")
V/WAP provides information, assistance, referrals and support to victims and witnesses of violent crime in all court districts across the province.
1991Child Victim/Witness Centres
The four Child Victim/Witness Centres provide court assistance and preparation to children who are victims or witnesses of violent crime.
1996Victim Support Line
This is a province-wide information line that provides victims with referrals to community agencies, information on the criminal justice system and access to information about the status and scheduled release date of provincially incarcerated offenders.
1997Domestic Violence Court Program
This program facilitates the prosecution of domestic assault cases and early intervention in abusive domestic situations through teams of police, Crown Attorneys, V/WAP staff, probation officers, and community agency staff workers.
1998Support Link Program
This program provides victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking with intensive safety planning and 911-programmed cell phones in 20 Ontario locations.
2002Bail Safety Pilot Project
This program, found in 10 locations in Ontario, provides for specially trained teams of Crown Attorneys, victim services staff and police to conduct in-depth interviews with victims of domestic violence at the bail stage of criminal proceedings.

The OVSS also provides time-limited community grants each year to organizations across Ontario to support projects that directly benefit victims and address gaps in supports and services to victims. Since 2005, the government has provided $15 million in grant funding to 247 community organizations. Two examples are the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Pembroke, which received a community grant to provide programs for children and youth who are victims of trauma, and the Ininew Friendship Centre in Cochrane, which received a community grant for an art therapy program for children who have been victimized by domestic violence.

B. Renaming the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat as the Victim Services Division

Although it also funds several community initiatives and programs administered by other ministries, the OVSS' primary role is to administer or deliver the victim-based programs and services provided by the Ministry. Renaming the OVSS as the Victim Services Division would have its name better reflect its function within the Ministry and would assist victims and the public to better understand its role.

C. VCARS agencies

The VCARS program, which I mentioned earlier, is a community-based program that provides immediate on-site help to victims of crime, disaster, or other tragic circumstances 24 hours a day, seven days a week. VCARS agencies, through teams of trained volunteers, provide emotional support to victims, accompany victims to shelters or hospitals, assist with arranging for crime scene clean-up, and refer victims to other community services for longer-term assistance. The VCARS agencies were also given the responsibility of delivering the VQRP in their communities. 1

There are currently 50 VCARS agencies in Ontario, each governed by its own independent Board of Directors. Each VCARS agency enters into a separate funding agreement with the Ministry that prescribes province-wide guidelines and criteria for the delivery of the VCARS program. The VCARS agencies have established a provincial association called the Ontario Network of Victim Service Providers and all but three VCARS agencies are members.

The local service delivery model that is the basis of the VCARS program is advantageous for a number of reasons. A victim receives emotional and practical assistance on-site immediately following an incident, which often helps victims cope more effectively and may also mitigate the impact of a traumatic event. The VCARS agencies are also able to develop relationships with the local police services. The police refer about 95% of the victims assisted by VCARS agencies. Similarly, the VCARS agencies are able to develop relationships with other local community agencies and programs that can provide more long-term assistance to victims of crime.

A very significant and impressive component of the VCARS agencies is the extensive involvement of volunteers. There are about 10,000 individuals in Ontario who volunteer to provide emergency assistance to victims through the VCARS program. These individuals receive 36 hours of training and are on call for up to three 12-hour shifts each month. They respond to about 50,000 victims each year. VCARS volunteers provide an invaluable service to their communities, giving selflessly of their time to assist those in need.

VCARS services are clearly extremely beneficial to crime victims. I met with family members of murder victims who had received assistance from their local VCARS agency. They very eloquently expressed their appreciation for the early support they received and the tremendous difference this support made to them as they struggled to cope with the consequences of the loss of their loved ones. It is important to emphasize, however, that VCARS services, as beneficial as they are, do not provide on-going assistance to victims of violent crime.

D. Victims' Justice Fund

All of the victim programs and agencies referred to above, including the VCARS agencies, receive funding through the Victims' Justice Fund, which consists of victim surcharges imposed by the courts on provincial and federal fines. 2 The monies in the Victims' Justice Fund must be used to "assist victims, whether by supporting programs that provide assistance to victims, by making grants to community agencies assisting victims or otherwise". 3 The OVSS, which receives about 60% of its budget from the Victims' Justice Fund, has administrative responsibility for the Fund. Subject to approval by the Management Board of Cabinet, the OVSS distributes monies to programs and organizations for purposes that are consistent with the Victims' Bill of Rights.

While the CICB's primary source of funding is the government's consolidated revenue fund, 4 I am advised that the Ministry has regularly supplemented the CICB's budgets with funds transferred from the Victims' Justice Fund.

E. Office for Victims of Crime

The OVC, although not strictly a victim service or program, advances the interests of crime victims in Ontario through its advisory role. The OVC is a statutory body established pursuant to the Victims' Bill of Rights. 5 Its members are victims of violent crime or individuals who have worked with crime victims and its mandate is to advise the Attorney General on issues relating to crime victims.

When it was originally formed in 1998, the OVC established a Special Victims Unit with three full-time staff who engaged in victim advocacy by linking crime victims with appropriate community agencies or case managing where a victim's circumstances were particularly difficult or complicated. The Special Victims Unit was disbanded a few years ago and the OVC currently focuses primarily on its legislated advisory mandate.

If the Attorney General continues to receive advice on victims' issues from an expert body such as the OVC, it would be preferable to rename it the Crime Victims Advisory Panel, thereby highlighting its advisory role and reducing confusion with the Victim Advocate (which I recommend further on) and with the OVSS.

F. Victim-centred approach

The Ministry has the dual responsibility of prosecuting criminal offences, as well as providing or funding the majority of Ontario's victim services and programs. While the Ministry provides many important victim programs, many are related to the prosecution process, rather than addressing the needs of victims that are unrelated to the trial process.

The Ministry's website identifies its five major program areas as: "prosecuting crime and preserving public order and personal safety; supporting victims of crime throughout the criminal justice system; providing criminal, civil and family courts and related justice services that are fair, timely and accessible; providing decision-making and justice support services to vulnerable people; and providing legal advice and services to government [emphasis added]." 6 Similarly, the OVSS' webpage states: "[The] OVSS works to ensure that victims of crime are treated with respect and receive the information and services they need throughout the various stages of the criminal justice process [emphasis added]." 7

Court-based victim services are extremely important and supportive of crime victims. The trial process can be very emotionally traumatic for victims and these services provide them with information about the court process as well as assistance and support during the various stages of proceedings. However, the majority of victims of violent crime do not report the crime to the police and so court-based services simply do not address their needs. 8 Additionally, victims of crime have many personal needs that are independent of the criminal trial process. It is critical, therefore, that the Ministry shift its current victim paradigm, which views crime victims too often through the relatively narrow lens of the criminal trial process, and move to a paradigm that has victims' needs at the centre of the lens.

  1. A list of the VCARS and other victim service agencies in Ontario involved in delivering the VQRP can be found at Appendix F.
  2. Victim fine surcharges are amounts added onto provincial or federal fines pursuant to the Provincial Offences Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.33, s.60.1 and the Criminal Code, supra note 43, s. 737.
  3. Victims' Bill of Rights, supra note 13, s. 5(4).
  4. The consolidated revenue fund refers to the "aggregate of all public monies on deposit to the credit of the Minister of Finance or in the name of any agency of the Crown approved by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario". See Ministry of Finance, "Ontario Budget 2008:Glossary", online:
  5. Supra note 13, s. 5.1.
  6. Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Annual Reports, "Ministry Overview", online:
  7. Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Victim Services, "An Overview", online:
  8. Statistics Canada, Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2004 by Marie Gannon and Karen Mihorean, Juristat Catalogue 85-002-XPE, vol. 25, no. 7 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2005) at 25.