I represent a growing number of people who have experienced sexual assault with their Criminal Injuries Compensation Board Claims. The provincial budget cuts proposed by the Conservative Government of Ontario will negatively impact people who have experienced violence, limiting their access to justice and vital financial and medical supports.
On hearing the news of the callous budgetary decision to scrap the Victims of Crime Act and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) I was contacted by a number of clients and advocates for survivors of crime, particularly sexual assault. Next week, I was scheduled to attend a women’s resource centre to provide pro-bono legal advice and help with their clients' CICB applications. I suspect for many of these clients the CICB will be the only foreseeable access to financial assistance for therapy, lost income and pain and suffering damages.
Losing a chance at a CICB claim will be a huge blow. The CICB provides financial compensation to survivors of violent crime in Ontario.
The CICB assesses financial compensation for victims and family members of deceased victims of violent crimes. The CICB fills essential gaps missed by our criminal and civil law justice systems, providing survivors of violence with access to a less intense and re-traumatizing justice process. Some highlights of what the CICB provides for:
Financial compensation to survivors of crime of nearly $33,000,000.00 for pain and suffering claims (33 million dollars) in 2017/2018;
$25,000 maximum per claim for pain and suffering, lost income, funeral expenses, counselling and/or support of a child born as a result of a sexual assault;
No limitation period for claims made by victims of domestic and sexual violence;
Justice without the need for a criminal conviction;
Convicted offenders will not be part of the process or notified of your claim;
Requests for medical records and reports are made and paid for by the CICB;
Often, especially in sexual assault claims, the CICB will make a decision to do a written rather than an oral hearing, promoting a culture of believing survivors and not-forcing them to relive their assaults;
Expedited timelines for financial compensation as compared to the civil law system; and
In many cases perpetrators of crimes have no money or assets and cannot be sued in civil court, the CICB provides a last resort for survivors in those cases.
Sure there have been criticisms of the CICB in the past, including a damning Ombudsman Report in 2007, but many of the Ombudsman's recommendations have since been implemented. The CICB process has been further streamlined and made more efficient in the last decade since the report (see 2017/2018 CICB annual report).
In my experience filing CICB claims for the last 7 years, the turnaround time between filing and receiving an award can be as little as 6 to 11 months. In the Civil Law System, which I also practice in, these same claims can take years.
Additionally helpful to survivors is the option to request immediate financial support for medical treatment. Prior to a decision to grant an award, the CICB can order emergency medical funding, such as psychological supports for survivors dealing with immediate medical treatment needs. (Additional emergency funding for medical treatment is also available through Victims Services.)
In the name opening Ontario for business, this is all to be cut, defunded and done away with.
This past week, in addition to cuts to many other vital service sectors, the CICB has been put on the chopping block. The Conservative Government says it will be replacing the CICB with an administrative model to ensure victims receive financial assistance faster and more efficiently with less administrative burden. Yet, there is no concrete vision of what will take the CICB’s place. What this new administrative model actually looks like or how it will function remains a complete mystery.
What we do know is that current pain and suffering claims made by survivors of violence will be capped at $5,000 (down from up to $25,000) until they will be outright refused.
It is important to note that pain and suffering claims make up a large portion of most CICB awards. Therefore, this touted increase in awards to $30,000 is at best illusory, at worst it is a targeted attack to reduce the amount survivors are entitled to. The Conservative Government's capping of pain and suffering claims at $5,000, means most actual awards will be drastically reduced.
As mentioned, all future claims will be refused (at a date yet to be chosen by the Lieutenant Governor).
Despite the budget not yet being law, these changes could all happen very fast.
As recently as February 26, 2019, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney stated on behalf of the Conservative Government of Ontario that "We are committed to helping victims of crime and their families access supports and services that are responsive to their needs.”
She continued, "Going forward, we are guaranteeing funding will be maintained while we have a conversation about ways to make victims services easier to navigate.”
It remains painfully unclear from all the empty rhetoric and political speak what system will be set up to help victims after the existing, working one, the CICB, has been torn down.
Who has or is being consulted in this decision to do away with vital services?
What recommendations have been made aside from “save taxpayers money”?
What are survivors of crimes supposed to do in the interim?
Unfortunately, for people who have experienced violence, a wait and see uncertainty is not a very comforting place to find yourself when you are trying to heal and recover.
Amidst this uncertainty I am recommending my clients consider the following:
Look after yourself and your recovery. Do not let short sighted political decisions affect your long-term healing.
As well, lawyers across Ontario should unite and oppose these cuts both inside and outside of the law.
As a mentor and colleague of mine rightly said (I’m paraphrasing) "all of these cuts are incredibly short sighted - systems to support victims and give people access to justice SAVE the system money in the longer term by preventing or mitigating problems before they arise."
Paid in part by the proceeds of crime!
It is probably worth noting for the "fiscal conservatives" that this money that will be saved comes in large part from the the victims' justice fund account in the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is paid in part by fine surcharges imposed under the Provincial Offences Act and under the Criminal Code (Canada). The money paid into the account is meant to be used to assist victims of crime according to the Victims Bill of Rights.
A spokeswoman for Ontario’s Attorney General in 2016 said the province has seized $48.6 million in criminal proceeds since 2003, with another $10.6 million frozen pending court proceedings. Of that money, $21.5 million has gone to “direct victims of unlawful activities".
Who is more deserving of these proceeds of crime than victims of crime?
How does a person who has experienced sex trafficking and assault seek compensation for the thousands of dollars it will cost them in treatments and therapies for years to come when the assaulter/offender is a career criminal, in jail for a decade, and owns no assets? That person applies to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for support.
This isn’t tailgating or buck-a-beer, these are serious life threatening policy decisions that have a profound impact on people who have experienced violence. Pardon me if I have zero faith in the tailgater-in-chief and his Conservative cronies’ abilities to pass meaningful victim focused legislation and marshall in an entirely new regime to appropriately compensate vulnerable people.