Privacy Laws and Victim Referrals
According to the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Canada's privacy laws do not permit RCMP officers to give victims' names and contact information to victim service organizations without the victims' consent.1
This is problematic because, as research has shown, victims have difficulty retaining information following a traumatic event and may not be able to provide informed consent. As a result, victims may never become aware of the programs and services designed to help them cope with their victimization or understand the criminal justice system. Victims who are not informed of their rights and services are, subsequently, less likely to have a positive experience with the criminal justice system.
The OFOVC has recognized this as a systemic issue that can have significant negative impacts on victims.
To address the issue, the OFOVC recommended that the Government of Canada amend the RCMP Act to outline the obligations RCMP members have to victims of crime and to introduce a new policy on victim referrals that would address the circumstances below.
- Proactive referrals—for cases where a victim may be at high risk, such as domestic violence or where the crime is serious and obtaining consent was not practical. For example, in some provinces, information sharing or proactive referrals are permitted even if consent is not provided by the victim, based on the assessment that a serious risk to health and safety exists. Definitions of applicable cases would have to be negotiated with the provinces.
- Active referrals—except in cases where a victim seems vulnerable or unless the victim expresses concerns for serious crime, an officer will explain to the victim that victims' services will contact them.
- Passive referrals—provision of contact information so the victim can contact victims' services or officer gets consent from victim to provide information.
Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Military
A recent report from the Military Police Criminal Intelligence Program, titled 2008 Statistical Overview of Sex Offences Reported to Military Police, stated that half of reported sex offences in the military involve young people, most often females. And while the number of reported cases has remained consistent, it is the issue of unreported cases that is of particular concern.
While the OFOVC was not able to find any research pertaining to the actual versus reported level of sexual assault in the Canadian military, there is research from the United States that suggests that one in seven service women in the U.S. military will experience sexual assault while in the military and that more than 80 per cent of these will not be reported. One-third of female veterans seeking health care through Veterans Affairs have experienced rape or attempted rape during their service.
While direct comparisons to the U.S. experience cannot be drawn, the Ombudsman felt that there were enough similarities to cause concern. Despite improvements to the environment for women in the military, it is impossible with current data to determine the reality of sexual assault and harassment in the Forces and how secure victims feel in coming forward.
In August 2009, the Ombudsman wrote to the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, to recommend that the total level of sexual violence in the Canadian Forces be determined, both reported and unreported. In his letter, the Ombudsman also encouraged the Minister to consider the unique challenges that some recruit victims face in reporting and to ensure that existing support and services available were meeting victims' needs. The Ombudsman also urged that the recommendation put forth by the 2008 Statistical Overview of Sex Offences Reported to Military Police2 concerning a critical review of existing educational programs on what constitutes sexual assault and what supports are available for victims be implemented immediately.
Missing Persons Index
Approximately 100,000 people are reported missing in Canada each year. While 95 per cent of these cases are resolved within 30 days, the remaining cases can drag on, sometimes indefinitely, causing extended trauma and anxiety for the victim's family members and loved ones.
In October 2006, the Federal Provincial Territorial ministers Responsible for Justice agreed in principle to the concept of a Missing Persons Index (MPI). An MPI would it make it possible to have the DNA profile of a missing person or close biological relative to be compared to the DNA profiles derived from found unidentified human remains from jurisdictions across Canada, in hopes of resolving cases and providing answers for the victim's loved ones.
The benefit this could potentially have for those families forever wondering about the disappearance of a loved one is immeasurable; however, little progress has been made on this issue since 2006. Part of the challenge remains finding a way to manage the cross-jurisdictional nature of the proposed MPI, given that human remains are the property of provincial coroners.
In April 2009, the Ombudsman sent a letter to the then Minister of Public Safety, Peter Van Loan, asserting the importance of an MPI for victims, recommending that the development of the MPI be given a high priority, and offering to work with the Government as legislation is being drafted. In addition to his written recommendation, the Ombudsman appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on May 7, 2009, and offered to participate in its study on the provisions and operation of the DNA Identification Act and to express support for the development of an MPI.
Victims of Hate Crime
Hate crimes are unique: while there may be only one physical victim, the crimes are targeted at, and have an impact on, a larger group. Because of this, support services may not be appropriately tailored to the specific needs of hate crime victims. Similarly, in a justice system developed to address individual crimes, it can be difficult for the entire victim population to have a true voice.
Generally, hate crime victims are targeted by an offender because of characteristics that ultimately define their identity as a member of a particular group, such as their physical appearance or religious beliefs. These characteristics are, for the most part, something the victim cannot or would not want to change. For this reason, victims may continue to feel like they are at risk of similar or repeat victimization, making it more difficult to regain their sense of security. In fact, research shows that past hate crime victims are four times more likely to be worried or very worried about suffering subsequent hate crime victimization. Victims of hate crime tend to report more distress. They also report higher levels of fear, depression and anxiety. For this reason, it is necessary to ensure that tailored, sensitive victims' services be available to victims of hate crime.
At a community level, the impact of a hate crime reaches far beyond the individual or institution that has been attacked. Hate crimes can promote fear among other members of the victim's community, be it racial, religious or otherwise. Community members may not know the victim or even live in the vicinity and, as a result, may not be recognized as a "victim" per se or qualify for assistance. Victims of a community also have fewer opportunities to express the impact that the crime has had on their lives in the same way that an individual could through, for example, a victim impact statement.
Crimes that impact an entire community also weaken a victim's natural support system. Research shows that less than 10 per cent of all victims access formal victim services, relying instead on informal supports like family and friends. This has particular implications for victims of hate crime, where secondary trauma to the entire community may also impact these informal supports. In these cases, the ability of the victim's family or community to offer support may be affected by their own feelings of victimization.
In January 2010, the OFOVC made a formal submission to and appeared before the Inquiry Panel of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. As part of its submission, the Ombudsman recommended that the Government consider amending the Criminal Code to allow for community victim impact statements, as has recently been proposed with legislation regarding white-collar crimes. The Ombudsman also recommended that services available to victims of hate crimes and hate incidents be substantially enhanced and expanded, including making hate crime victims a priority for victim services.
- 1. In 1999, the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner advised the RCMP that "the disclosure of victim information for the purposes of the Victim Service Program does not qualify as consistent use of information under paragraph 8(2)(a) of the Privacy Act." (return to Footnote 1)
- 2. Canadian Forces Military Police, Statistical Overview of Sex Offences Reported to Military Police, Strategic Criminal Intelligence Section (Ottawa: Author, 2008), p. 12. (return to Footnote 2)