I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 25 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Pursuant to the motion adopted on February 8, the committee is resuming its study on the government's obligations to the victims of crime.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to House Order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
For those on Zoom, you have a choice at the bottom of your screens of either the floor, English or French. For those in the room, you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
Before I welcome the witnesses, I want to give my condolences to Ms. Neville-Lake on the understanding of the passing of her husband. On behalf of the entire committee, I want to give my condolences to her. She's not going to be appearing today.
To the witnesses coming forward, I know this is a very sensitive and personal subject for you guys, so take your time on it—although I will ask you to stay within the five-minute parameters. I have little cue cards that I will raise when there are 30 seconds remaining. When your time's up, I would ask you to conclude. Other than that, I don't like interrupting if I don't have to.
In the interest of time, because we've started a little late due to votes and member statements for the opposition House leader, we will do two 45-minute rounds and will try to go to 6. I don't have unanimous consent, but I should have it. I think we're just looking for a filler for somebody, so we should be able to go to that.
Beginning in our first round, we have the Honourable Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, Senator. Thank you.
We have, from the Families for Justice, Markita Kaulius, president. I think you're online, yes. I believe you're from Surrey, if I'm right. Welcome from my hometown.
We also have Holly Lucier, paralegal, and from the Women's Law Association of Ontario, Jennifer Gold, lawyer and director of the board.
We will begin with Senator Boisvenu for five minutes.
I would like to inform you that I will have to leave very early because I have to be at the Senate at 5 o'clock. Monsieur Lametti is there. As the deputy chair of our justice committee, I have to be with him at that time.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today regarding the study of the federal government's obligations to victims of crime.
As most of you know, since my daughter Julie was raped and murdered by a repeat offender 20 years ago tomorrow, and given that there was no legislation at the time for victims of crime and their families, I have dedicated my life to recognizing, enhancing, and protecting these hard-won rights so that victims never again feel abandoned by our federal institutions nor by our justice system.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, to which I personally contributed, was passed in 2015 under the leadership of Mr. Harper. The bill of rights plays a critical role in recognizing and protecting victims' rights.
I'm here to discuss improvements the federal government should make on this front. I'll start by addressing the first issue: a lack of consideration with respect to the position of ombudsman for victims of crime. This position has been vacant for nine months, despite awareness of the contract end date three years ago. In 2017, it was vacant for almost eleven months before it was finally filled.
The ombudsman plays a vital role in federal institutions by protecting victims' rights and ensuring that the government fulfills its responsibilities. They are also a voice for victims in the media, raising awareness among Canadians of the many issues the government must be asked to address. No ombudsman is currently conveying the anger of victims' families and speaking out against violations of their rights in the public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting, for example.
To keep this from ever happening again, the ombudsman must be independent. Legislation should be enacted to make the ombudsman an officer of Parliament like the Correctional Investigator, who is, in essence, the ombudsman for offenders. Finally, the ombudsman should be the defender of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and have sole jurisdiction over complaints from victims of crime.
I'd like to reiterate an important fact in support of my statement. In 2017, Bill was introduced in the House of Commons to address this issue. All parties supported it, except the Liberals, who were against having an ombudsman for victims similar to and on equal footing with the ombudsman for offenders.
I'll now address a second issue, the five-year review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, and as you well know, the bill of rights should have been reviewed in 2020. This further delay sends a negative message out to victims when the government has had obligations to honour since 1985 under the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
Currently, the Canadian bill of rights doesn't include all the rights set out in the UN declaration, namely compensation and other services to victims, such as medical, psychological, legal and social assistance.
The final report released in 2020 on the review of Canada's criminal justice system shows that victims still find it very difficult to report crimes to the police for fear of retaliation or that their case will not be taken seriously. When they do end up in the justice system, they experience a lack of compassion and respect. That's why it's crucial that a five-year review be done to address any shortcomings in the bill of rights that adversely affect victims.
The 2020 progress report on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime specifically recommends nine amendments to the bill, two of which I believe should be addressed urgently.
First, when their rights have been violated, victims have no recourse before the courts. To address this issue, the report's first recommendation would be to grant them the right to appeal when their rights are not upheld.
The second recommendation concerns restitution orders. This is the twelfth recommendation. It aims to provide victims with judicial support to make offenders pay the restitution they owe.
Finally, I'd like to point out that, since 2015, I've been waiting for the Government of Canada to pass legislation to improve victims' rights. Take women who are victims of domestic violence, for example.
Does it make any sense that, in 2022, even though we have modern ways to better control men's violent behaviour, women have to risk their lives to report abuse, when the government is urging victims to come forward?
Why are murderers, even once they are in prison, allowed to post photographs of themselves with the one they murdered on social media? Why do families have to fight with social media for months to get them to take action?
That's one way the bill of rights could have been improved if you had been the ombudsman for victims of crime. When I say “you”, I mean the Parliament of Canada.
In conclusion, committee members, I would add that 20 years ago, victims made the decision to break out of their prison of silence, to speak out and to demand nothing less than to be treated fairly, on an equal footing with the accused under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Victims and their families don't want more rights than criminals. They want and deserve the same rights. It's up to Parliament to recognize that.
I'd be pleased to answer your questions if time permits.
Thank you very much, honourable members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Thank you for allowing me to be here today.
My name is Markita Kaulius. I am the founder and president of Families for Justice. I am here today representing thousands of Canadian families who have lost our children and loved ones, killed by impaired drivers in Canada.
On May 3, 2011, my 22-year-old daughter Kassandra was killed by an impaired driver. My daughter was driving home after coaching a softball game. She was stopped at a red light and had the right-of-way to make a left-hand turn. As she waited for traffic to pass, a white van came speeding down the curb lane. The stoplight for the van had already been red for 12 seconds. The van accelerated the last 500 feet of the intersection, got airborne over railway tracks and slammed into my daughter's vehicle. She was killed in a catastrophic collision when she was T-boned in the driver's side door. Kassandra was crushed to death by 3,000 lbs. of steel crashing into the side of her at 103 kilometres an hour. The driver then fled the scene of the collision. The driver was two and a half times over the legal limit to drive.
Sadly, instead of becoming the teacher she had dreamed of being, my daughter became another statistic of impaired driving. She lost her life because another impaired driver made the willful, reckless choice to drink and then drive while being impaired. My family and I received a lifetime sentence of being without our daughter. Sadly, Kassandra received a death sentence.
Impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. Each year impaired driving leaves a terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction. From that point of view of numbers alone, it has a far greater impact on Canadian society than any other crime. On average, between 1,250 to 1,500 people are killed each year in Canada, and thousands more are injured. In terms of deaths and serious injuries resulting in hospitalization, impaired driving is clearly the crime that causes the most significant social loss to this country.
Since the legalization of marijuana in 2018 by the federal government, we have seen drug-impaired driving collisions rise by 43%. The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now exceeds the number who test positive for alcohol.
Criminal victimization of crime is a frightening and unsettling experience for thousands of Canadians, and the victimization is debilitating. The effects can also be long term and difficult to overcome. Not only do we suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially from our victimization; we are also often burdened by the complexity of the criminal justice system.
I have spoken with hundreds of families who say they felt retraumatized after going through the criminal justice system. They never felt their needs were being addressed or listened to, which in turn made their grieving process last so much longer. Individuals who are killed never have a voice or get to speak of the trauma they endured, and their families are trying to seek justice for their loved one. The families wait for months, or even years, for the Crown to approve charges. Then they must go through numerous court proceedings, which can take years due to postponements with the lack of judges and court availability.
Then plea deals are made. Many times, charges are dropped down to a single charge altogether. When the accused finally gets to court, it doesn't seem like the accused is on trial. It seems like the investigation is on trial, and the accused has more rights than the victims. If the accused is convicted at all, they are sentenced by using case law from previous cases where a similar sentence was given out. Often these sentences are so low, the accused is back out in the community in just a few days or months. We have seen cases take longer to go to trial than the actual jail time given out, even when the offences were serious. Families feel revictimized, as the accused has paid little debt to society.
Canadians have begun to doubt not only the safety of their surroundings but also the fairness and efficiency of the justice system set up to protect them and their property. Canadians would like to see changes to Canada's criminal justice system. Canadians feel there are several justice issues, including confidence in the system, crime rates and parole. The focus should be on several aspects of the criminal justice system, particularly sentencing and correction issues and assistance for victims.
Canadians believe that the main purpose of the courts and our criminal justice system is to protect society, and Canadians believe that the system should act as a deterrent to criminals and should function to punish offenders who commit crimes against society.
Sadly, that is not the case in our Canada in our current justice system. Offenders are not being held accountable—
I'm the past president of the Women's Law Association of Ontario.
Since 1919, the WLAO has been dedicated to empowering women in the legal profession by providing a collective voice and advocating for equality, diversity and change. Our members practise in various areas of law, and we draw upon their expertise when we are asked to make submissions.
I have practised family law for over 20 years and represent survivors of family violence. In addition to my work with the WLAO, I am a board member of Legal Aid Ontario and Pro Bono Ontario.
My fellow board member and chair of our advocacy committee couldn't be here today, but she practises criminal law and contributed to these submissions.
I also speak to you from my own personal experience as the child of a survivor of family violence. I spent a significant portion of my childhood witnessing that violence against my mother. I also witnessed my father's struggles with mental illness and addiction and his experience with racism as an immigrant.
By now, you've heard about the challenges and barriers faced by victims of crime and the inadequacy of our current supports for them. It is a gender issue, as most victims of crime are women, and my remarks today, however, will focus on solutions.
In studying the government's obligations to victims of crime, including the vacant position of the federal ombudsman and reviewing the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, this committee has an opportunity to create transformational change.
What is meant by that change? The WLAO seeks change that is systemic, that aims to alleviate such crime in the first place and truly serve victims and their children. A solution that does not consider the entirety of the issue at hand can be akin to treating the symptoms of the disease and not the cause.
Many societal problems are symptoms of larger systemic issues. For instance, family violence against women is a symptom of patriarchy. In considering solutions, we need to employ a lens that examines society in general and the interactions of the entire justice system broadly alongside individual issues, yet we do need those band-aids to stop the bleeding while we find a cure.
Some of the solutions involve, one, supports to navigate the current system. One of the issues for victims is the lack of information readily available to navigate the justice system and understand core processes. Some ideas to remedy this issue are, one, scale up the services and support offered by victim services and create a voluntary information program, similar to the mandatory information program for family law cases that provides guidance for litigants through the court system. Additional support could include a 24-hour counselling or resource hotline for victims. This could address the limited services that are available in remote and rural communities.
Two, fund counselling for victims, their children and survivors impacted by the crime. When possible, recover the cost of such services from the accused.
Three, utilize and fund provincial legal aid systems so that eligible victims can obtain representation. As an alternative to full representation, four-hour certificates can be given to victims to obtain a lawyer and to learn about the court process and criminal law itself. Additional funding could be given to legal aid programs so that family lawyers could pursue the tort of family violence; I've cited the case Ahluwalia and Ahluwalia. Additional funding can be given to legal aid clinics to assist victims with restitution for other types of cases.
Use technology to scale up services so that communications with victims can be tracked within an organization. For instance, Pro Bono Ontario uses Salesforce software to track calls through to their centre.
Amend sections 6 to 8 of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights so that the rights enshrined in those provisions do not put the burden on the victim to request information. Victims from historically marginalized groups may not feel comfortable making such requests. In addition, placing this burden on traumatized individuals may not be practical.
Create a federal statute to compensate victims of crime.
Options that allow victims to have some influence on the process is another solution. In our current systems, victims are framed as the object, as opposed to the subject. In order to address the objectification of victims, the following may work. First is the option to be added as a party. Second is allowing the victim to opt for restorative justice for both the accused and the victim. Third is increasing opportunities in the process for restorative justice programs.
Regarding the federal ombudsman, this position should be filled expeditiously, while ensuring a proper search is conducted. That office should be inclusive and diverse.
I have other suggestions for the big-picture, systemic considerations, but I see that I'm at the end of my time.
My daughter was killed on April 15, 2018 by an impaired driver. She had been crossing a road in a marked, lit up crosswalk and was blindsided by an F-150 pickup truck.
The time it took for our offender to be eventually convicted was torture for our family. It was a long, drawn-out process. It took two and a half years for the offender to plead guilty. A month following the sentencing of our offender, he applied for day parole. We had just barely made it through the sentencing hearing, after waiting two and a half years in complete devastation. Our lives were bankrupted of every imaginable morsel that you can think of. Then we get to sentencing. He gets three and a half years and then a month later applies for day parole. I literally wrote one victim impact statement for sentencing and a month later was writing a brand new statement for parole.
There is no support. Victims and their families are left to find advocates outside of the court processes. They are left to find advocacy and help from people outside of our own institutions. I don't see the help for victims and their families that I see for the offenders.
The current legislation creates unfair hardship for victims and their families because they aren't even recognized as victims of a violent crime. We were considered victims of a motor vehicle incident. They aren't recognized as victims of a violent crime by the courts or by provincial services for victims. That is causing even more undue hardship to victims and their families.
There needs to be a bill brought forward for victims' rights that would allow victims and their families to be recognized for the damages and suffering that they endure. It is time to change the narrative for victims and their families. It is time to change legislation and the entire way that impaired driving is regarded, so families don't have to keep living through this in the name of justice.
I think a number of things could be changed in our system to provide better support for victims and their families. The accused—the offenders—are provided free counselling as soon as they enter a guilty plea. There's no free counselling for victims and their families. We have to find that on our own. If you don't have the resources, if you've lost your job or you can't afford to pay for your own family anymore or keep a roof over your head, you can't afford therapy. It's a hardship that doesn't have to look like this for victims across the board. Families wouldn't have to suffer like this if we had better supports available through victim services.
The time it takes for matters to go through the courts is unnecessary. If the courthouses had better triage of their matters and actually had a person who was looking at the matters that are set down for trial by the Crown, we would be able to triage the courthouse files and get matters out of docket. We're taking too much time at the courts and it's actually costing innocent people and the families who are waiting.
Thank you for your time.
I, too, would like to thank the witnesses for being with us today. This is an important topic, and their insights will be very helpful.
Ms. Gold, Senator Boisvenu, who was here earlier and had to leave, proposed that the ombudsman report directly to the House of Commons, rather than the Department of Justice.
The position is currently vacant, but once it's filled, would it be more effective if the position reported to the House of Commons?
In either case, why? What are your views on this?
You'll notice that I'm asking you my questions in French. It isn't that I want to snub English, but one of the missions of the Bloc Québécois is to ensure that Canada works in both official languages. For our constituents in Quebec, it's easier for us to be understood in French. I hope you won't be offended.
You spoke earlier about legal resources for victims. I'm sorry, maybe it was Ms. Lucier.
We can easily understand that a victim of crime can benefit from the services of a legal advisor—a lawyer, whatever—and also need psychological services from time to time. It's a good idea.
Given your experience with the Women's Law Association of Ontario, do you have an opinion on the basket of services that should be available to victims of crime?
By the way, I love that you're speaking to me in French. We're in a bilingual country with two official languages. You're providing me with some challenges to recall some of my high school French, so thank you.
With respect to a suite of services for victims, I have many ideas about that, but they would require greater input from victim services and legal aid service plans—and also, obviously, the budget that's available to fund these services. I think continued conversation with victims on how resources get allocated is really important.
As a family lawyer, I represent survivors of domestic violence. Just as Ms. Lucier said, they do not know what's going on in the criminal process. Quite often as a family lawyer I need to advise them about what the next step is, what it means, when they may see a resolution, what they need to do and who they should contact. That's beyond the scope of my work. Quite often I wear a social worker hat as well.
These are resources that victims need in order to navigate the system, especially in light of the pandemic, when there's a tremendous amount of backlog in the courts. Ms. Lucier's experience is even worse now. Hopefully, that can be rectified with additional resources to the judiciary and other branches.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to start by thanking all of our witnesses today for sharing their experiences as victims with us. I know we've talked about retraumatization in the court process, but I think as members of the committee we also acknowledge that your appearing here today is also part of that. I trust and hope that you have supports in place for that retraumatization that's almost inevitable.
I don't think any of us who haven't experienced it directly can fully understand the weight that comes with that, but I do want to thank all of you for trying to take that experience and turn it into something positive and turn it into positive change. I know from some of the victims I've dealt with that one of the things that's helped them move forward is trying to make sure that people don't experience the same thing they did.
My thanks here are really very sincere.
One of the suggestions we've heard already in this study is that we should move from victims having to request information to a system where information is delivered mandatorily. Some people have said there would be problems with that and that some victims might not appreciate it.
I'll start with Ms. Gold, just for practical reasons here for a second.
Do you think there's any problem, from the victim's point of view, with a mandatory notification?
I'm going to start with Ms. Kaulius, and maybe Ms. Lucier, as well. You both made statements that really struck me. I've heard statements like that before, but they struck me, especially when combined with your telling your very personal and tragic stories. It really pulls at our hearts, and I hope it did that for everyone. I'm sure it did.
Ms. Kaulius, you said it feels like the accused has more rights than victims. Ms. Lucier said something similar, talking about the rights of offenders being more valued than those of the victims. You both kind of elaborated on those statements by indicating the injustice, whether it be short sentences that don't really seem to fit the crime, or the complexity and confusion around the legal and court processes, or lack of information. There were many factors that played into that.
I want to give you both a chance to respond—and I guess it will have to be brief, unfortunately, with the time I've been allotted. How does that make the victim's families feel? What sort of an impact does that have on a victim's family, when you feel like the accused has more rights than you do as a victim?
Thank you again to the committee for having me here today.
As you probably already know, as I've been here before, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies works to address the persistent ways in which women and gender-diverse people who are criminalized are routinely denied their humanity and excluded from considerations of community.
Our head office is located on the unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinabe territory in what is colonially known as Ottawa.
I suppose I would like to begin by stating the obvious. This is not an easy topic to discuss, and I don't need to tell all of you that it is both nuanced and complex. To be a victim of certain types of harm is to be followed by an anguish and a grief that do not go away.
Our family has first-hand experience with the pain that is characterized here as victimhood. My cousin was murdered in a gruesome and violent manner here in Ottawa, and more than a decade after her death, we are still impacted by the loss of her in our lives.
In my current professional capacity as the executive director of a national organization that works with and on behalf of people who are in federal prisons designated for women, I am acutely aware that their stories and their lives do not fit neatly into the box of perpetrator or victim, as they are often both, but they are not the people we traditionally see as model or perfect victims. They are poor. They suffer from mental health disabilities. They are not white. They have been harmed by other people and by systems their whole lives with little to no recourse for that harm. They are survivors of violence many times over and rarely, if ever, have had the support or therapy for the harms they have suffered.
In conversation with one of the executive directors of a local Elizabeth Fry Society when discussing the provision of therapeutic supports for the people who use her services, she asked me, “Where does one start when the incidents of victimization are so numerous?”
The myth that there is a clear binary distinction between who is a victim and who is a perpetrator of a crime is ever-present in the work we do. Most people in prison have experienced substantial adverse events in childhood and adulthood. For example, if you look to the Office of the Correctional Investigator's research, it has shown that at least half of the people in federal prisons have a history of childhood physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, and those numbers are even higher in the prisons designated for women.
By creating a narrative that portrays a false binary between those who experience violence, we are encouraging a system and a culture that does not adopt an informed or responsible analysis of harm. For example—and this is a key one for us—the majority of street-level crime is inflicted by poor people on other poor people. A solution is not to incarcerate these people in a violent place like a prison. The solution is to ensure that there are no more poor people by eradicating poverty.
CAEFS has witnessed this false binary narrative having a number of negative outcomes, and one of the biggest is the lack of understanding of the justice system from the charging, to trial, to sentencing and parole, which can create false expectations for registered victims. I have seen people who have attended a parole hearing and have mistakenly equated the denial of parole with justice and the granting of parole with injustice, with little to no understanding of why the person in prison is being approved for release.
Second, we do need to ensure the safety and wellness of people who have served their prison sentence and been reintegrated, but who have registered victims who actively monitor their lives. In many cases, people leaving prison move to a new geographic region through conditions of parole or by choice, even if this means living in places where they have little to no community support, have increased social marginality and the real and ironic risk of being revictimized and re-incarcerated.
Lastly, we must challenge the prevalence of a certain “tough on crime” narrative that a punitive system keeps anyone safe when the contrary has been proven to be true over and over again. The body of Canadian and global evidence suggests that punishment and incarceration are harmful for people, communities and society and that this model does not reduce or resolve crime.
Taking accountability for harm is a necessity, but we really only have one test for accountability in Canada, which is the length of time that a person is sentenced to prison. This is entirely inadequate and contributes to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that are so often expressed by the people who have experienced harm.
In our adversarial system, there is no room for a person to express remorse and a desire to make amends. In our adversarial system, we focus only on the punitive and not the transformative potential of healing and, where appropriate, rehabilitation. In our adversarial system, there really are very few chances for healing.
It is for this reason that the most important task here is to be looking at ways that prevent people from becoming victims of harm. I know that I would like to have my cousin here living and with us. We have to invest in communities that create a world that addresses the root causes of violence and harm.
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. My name is Jaymie-Lyne Hancock, and I'm the national president of MADD Canada. With me today is Steve Sullivan, our director of victim services.
I will be making the opening remarks, and Steve will assist in answering questions.
On behalf of MADD Canada, our volunteers and members, and the victims and survivors of impaired driving, whom we support, thank you for this opportunity to address the committee on its important work regarding the government's obligation to victims of crime.
MADD Canada is a charitable organization, with a mission to stop impaired driving and to support victims of this violent crime. Every year, hundreds of Canadians are killed and thousands are injured in impairment-related crashes. For every one of those crashes, family, friends and communities are deeply and permanently affected.
My family knows that impact all too well. On August 21, 2014, my brother D.J. was leaving a tryout for a Junior A hockey team when he was hit head-on by an impaired driver. Our parents were at the tryout, and they were on the road just a few minutes behind D.J. They came upon the crash scene and found their son pinned inside his car. D.J. died an hour later. He was still trapped inside his car, with my parents paying witness to it all. Every day since, we have felt the grief and heartbreak of losing D.J. in such a senseless way. It did not have to happen.
MADD Canada is the only national anti-impaired driving organization that provides direct support to victims and survivors. We host online monthly support groups. We hold an annual conference for victims and survivors. We provide important opportunities for people to memorialize their loved ones, through monuments, online tributes and memorial road signs.
While these hearings are focused on the federal government, it needs to be recognized that most services and rights fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. It is important that this committee understands that victims and survivors of impaired driving are often not afforded the same level of services that victims of other violent crimes are. In fact, in some jurisdictions, impaired driving is considered a tragic circumstance, and victims and survivors of impaired-driving crashes may be excluded from the mandates of government-funded victim services and programs.
Many of those who come to MADD Canada were not offered services. They were told that there was not much victim services could do, or that they did not meet the parameters of programs. This is especially true for individuals who are injured in crashes. In 2021, MADD Canada held virtual round tables to discuss victims' rights, and the most consistent thing we heard about was on the lack of services, or the lack of helpful services.
We rarely talk about the cost to victims when they exercise their rights. Preparing a victim impact statement can be a painful and difficult process. Attending many court or parole hearings can revictimize people. This is not to suggest that we should limit rights, but we must recognize that the granting of rights is only half of our responsibility. Providing support is equally, if not more, important.
In terms of direct services, the federal government is limited to the corrections and parole systems and some direct funding programs. Despite the limited role, we believe the federal government can do more to strengthen federal legislation and support services. The federal victims fund is not accepting unsolicited applications for funding. We tried to apply for support for our 2022 National Conference for Victims of Impaired Driving, which we have done in the past, but we were told new applications were not being accepted. This was before the beginning of this fiscal year.
We are asking the committee to make a recommendation that the federal government increase the financial support available through this fund, so non-government services like ours can access assistance to provide desperately needed services. Our conference is unlike anything else in the country. We bring 250 victims and survivors from across the country together for a weekend of reflection, keynote speakers and networking. The impact and importance of this conference is not something I can adequately put into words with such limited time. I can only tell you that my parents and I were so grateful that we experienced this conference after D.J.'s death. It was an incredible help and comfort to us.
We believe that federal legislation, including the Criminal Code, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights can be strengthened to consider the needs and concerns of victims and survivors. For example, more consideration should be given to the mental health of victims and survivors when offenders are released back into the same community. Additionally, the Criminal Code should be amended to ensure that victims and survivors receive advance notice of a plea bargain and to require judges to acknowledge victim impact statements in their sentencing decisions.
We look forward to participating in the review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. We note that the legislation passed in 2015 called for the review to take place within five years, and we are well past that time frame.
We look forward to answering any questions you may have for us.
I want to thank our witnesses today for their excellent presentations, informing us of the situations they've faced personally and their experiences, as organizations, on how to.... Most importantly, you've given your help to find solutions, and better information gathering than we've had in the past.
I want to start off by saying, even to the last panellists—I didn't get a chance to do this—that I know some of the trauma you're going through. Some of you talked about 10 years, 15 and 20 years. It will be 45 years ago this fall that I lost my uncle in a hit-and-run accident. He was killed instantly. That trauma never leaves the family. I know this from dealing with my cousins, who were left without a father at that particular time, and without a new grandfather as well.
I want to start with Ms. Hancock or Mr. Sullivan. There's a public perception of the Canadian justice system on Parliament Hill that we've been dealing with. It's been the topic of discussion recently. I was wondering if you could share with us the perception of the justice system from the perspective of the individuals and families who Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada supports.
You support an awful lot of victims. What do you think their perception is of some of the issues? Some of them were named by our previous panel. What are some of those perceptions of the present justice system?
I don't think it's all that different from what you heard from the previous witnesses. Many of the families we work with and support feel that impaired driving is not taken as seriously as it should be, given the trauma they suffer.
We work with people who have lost their children, their parents and, in Jaymie-Lyne's case, their brother. We also work with people who have suffered life-altering injuries. They'll never work again. They have changed how they parent. Their entire lives have changed because of the injuries they've suffered.
I think they also feel that, in terms of services.... Especially those people who are injured here in Ontario, for example...they are not eligible for services in the court system, in our victim/witness assistance program. We hear that across the country. They don't get the kind of assistance that other victims of violent crimes....
I'm not pretending that other victims get all that they should, either, but there is certainly a feeling that their trauma and the suffering they've experienced is not taken as seriously by the justice system as it should be.
As Jaymie-Lyne mentioned, we're talking about victims' rights and services here. That's largely done at the provincial and territorial levels.
When you look at how those services are funded, it really comes through victim surcharges through the Criminal Code, or through their own provincial surcharges, which are on Highway Traffic Act offences. That's where they get the bulk of their funding.
In some provinces, that's the majority of the funding. It doesn't come from taxpayers' dollars. Governments don't have to make difficult decisions in terms of funding victim services. It's really with what we can raise from offenders. If the message to victims is that we care about them, I don't think that's a very good way to show it.
I know that the federal government provides some funding for programs, projects and that kind of thing. Obviously, increasing that is an area to look at. However, that's often short-term funding. “Try this project. Try this funding. It's for three years.” It's that kind of thing.
That's an ongoing discussion of what the federal government can do to help to fund those services, but, ultimately, I think it's a decision that the provinces and territories have to make.
My questions are for Ms. Coyle.
Ms. Coyle, in your opening remarks, you said that it was important for victims and offenders to feel protected.
In your experience, are you able to tell us whether the current system adequately protects victims and offenders before the courts, for instance?
In Quebec, we have the network of Centres d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels, or CAVAC. These are 17 centres whose multidisciplinary teams are mandated to help victims and their families. According to members of this network, there aren't enough services in place to provide this protection.
Mr. Sullivan, Ms. Hancock and Ms. Coyle, thank you for being with us today.
Ms. Coyle, I listened carefully to your testimony. The lack of services is obviously a recurring problem. We won't hide it. In fact, all the witnesses are saying so.
As I understand it, legal advisory services should be provided to help victims better understand what's going on. Often, psychotherapy, among other services, can help them overcome these negative events.
Could you to tell us about the differences in services that exist in the provinces?
Are the issues in Quebec substantially the same as those raised in British Columbia, Ontario or elsewhere?
I don't know what you could do at the federal level. You know that we have the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, but every province and territory has their own victims bill of rights, and they also fund their own services, which are very different from province to province, so they decide who's eligible for which programs.
Going back decades, I know that the federal government used to have a cost-sharing agreement with the provinces for compensation, to the effect that “We will fund this if you do these things”. That might be a solution, but at the end of the day, provinces vary, and some will recognize victims of impaired driving and others will not.
Some recognize them as victims of tragic circumstances. Coming from a community-based victim organization in Ontario, I know that how victims are defined is relevant to your funding. If these victims walk through your door, you might get more funding; if those victims walk through your door, you might get less funding. Those are really important things, but they're all provincial and so, in the federal government, I think the leverage is obviously funding.
Thank you, Mr. Garrison.
That concludes our meeting for today. I want to thank all of the witnesses for attending our final session before the summer break. Thank you very much for coming.
I also want to thank all the members of this committee, as this will conclude the meeting.
I have a little bit of housekeeping to do just before the members go. We have a request for a supplementary project budget. I think that because we're having in-person witnesses, there's an increase of $3,500 for this current study. I just want to know if we're all in favour of that.
Okay, all are in favour.
I also want to thank our clerk. I think it's his last day today at our committee. He won't be here in the fall. We'll be getting a new committee clerk. I think we can all give him a round of applause.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: If there is nothing else, enjoy the rest of the week and have a good summer. We'll see you all back in the fall.