Annual Report (2018-2019)
Message from the Ombudsman
It is my pleasure to present the 2018–2019 Annual Report of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC), which covers the period from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019.
I was honoured to be appointed to serve Canadians as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime in October 2018.1 I have dedicated my career to supporting victims, survivors, and their families in the not-for-profit sector, and it is a privilege to build on that work now as Ombudsman.
In the short time frame between my appointment and the end of this reporting period, our Office worked hard to honor our mandate. We engaged with victim-survivors, stakeholders, service providers, and the federal government to influence necessary, systemic change for victims of crime in Canada. We worked to champion victims’ rights, and to ensure that victims’ voices are heard and considered by decision-makers. This report details how we did that work. This past year, we helped victims and Canadians directly by responding to hundreds of inquiries and complaints. We also engaged with Canadians in other ways. This report presents the conferences, events, and meetings I attended to hear from victims, practitioners, and researchers about their experiences, their needs, and their ideas about our justice system. This outreach shed light on a number of gaps that we need to address to make our federal programs, services, and policies more responsive to the needs of Canadian victims of crime. To that end, this report presents the recommendations to government made by our Office this past year in efforts to influence change and achieve more effective policies, programs, and legislation for victims of crime.
Because the voices of Canadians are essential to guide us and inform the work that we do, I take this opportunity to recognize and thank the participants: service providers and private citizens affected by violence. I extend my gratitude to the previous Ombudsman, Sue O’Sullivan. Under her leadership, the OFOVC brought about many positive changes that improve the lives of victims, survivors and their families. I am fortunate to have her seven-year tenure as an example for the years ahead. Finally, I would like to thank my staff, who work tirelessly on behalf of the victims they serve.
The foundation is set for a promising 2019–2020, during which I plan revitalize the work of our Office and outline a direction for my next three years serving as Ombudsman. Building on past successes and recognizing where there is room to improve, I envision an Office that is agile, responsive, and forward-looking, taking a victim-centered approach to everything that we do. I am eager to continue this journey to empower victims of crime and their families, and honor what it means to put victims first.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
1 The position of Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was vacant from November 15, 2017 to September 30, 2018.
Who We Are and What We Do
WHO WE ARE
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) exists to provide a voice for victims of crime at the federal level, and to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime.
WHAT WE DO
Our mandate relates to matters of federal jurisdiction and enables the Office to:
- promote access by victims to existing federal programs and services for victims
- address complaints of victims about compliance with the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that apply to victims of crimes committed by offenders under federal jurisdiction
- promote awareness of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime
- facilitate access by victims to programs and services by providing them with information and referrals
- identify and review emerging and systemic issues that negatively impact victims of crime
WHO WE SERVE
Since 2007, the OFOVC exists to serve Canadians who have suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage or economic loss as the result of a criminal offence.
The OFOVC supports spouses, relatives, or dependents of victims, and welcomes the queries of any Canadians seeking information about the rights of victims of criminal offences.
“Thank you so much for your response. It is refreshing to see that there still people out there who will respond. I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer instead of the normal dismissal that others seem to be so content with.”
—An OFOVC client
Making a difference for victims of crime and their families
We serve victims by answering inquiries and addressing complaints. Anyone can contact the Office directly through our toll-free victim-assistance line and speak with a bilingual Complaint Review Officer. We are also available through email, fax or regular mail.
“Thank you again for listening and being a safe place for victims to express their deep frustrations and disappointment with the current criminal justice system.”
—An OFOVC client
2018-2019 at a glance
The Ombudsman participated in a Ministerial Forum on Anti-Racism. This forum helped to inform the development of “Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022”!
The Ombudsman attended the 2019 Crime Prevention Symposium to engage with key stakeholders and gain more tools, resources and knowledge to support the OFOVC’s initiatives.
The Ombudsman delivered remarks at the Conference on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights on February 20th, 2019.
Social Media Impressions: +217K
Twitter Mentions: +100
+200 New Followers
5 News Releases/Statements
6 Recommendation Submissions to Government
19 Events and Engagements
+34,000 Website visits
Top Tweet ENGLISH:
Racism leads to violence and victimization. Hate crimes based on race or ethnicity remind us of that reality. In 2017 the number of police reported hate crimes was X% higher than in 2016:
Top Tweet FRENCH:
Consultez la déclaration de l'Ombudsman sur la semaine de prévention contre la conduite avec facultés affaiblies: https://bit.ly/2JkLeDU #conduiteavecfacultésaffaiblies #NeConduisPasGelé
The following two stories highlight some of the issues that victims and survivors of crime face and how the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime can help.2
In November 2018, the offender who harmed Mr. Chalamet was transferred to an institution four kilometers from Mr. Chalamet’s home. When Mr. Chalamet heard about this, he began to fear for his own safety and that of his daughter.
Mr. Chalamet contacted our Office to file a complaint about this situation. We helped him navigate the complaints process and make a complaint under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. We facilitated communication between Mr. Chalamet and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to help him find resolution.
After our Office became involved:
- The CSC reviewed the complaint and concluded that it had followed all procedures correctly.
- A look at prior communications between Mr. Chalamet and the CSC confirmed that Mr. Chalamet had not objected to the offender’s placement at institutions in the region before. There were no records indicating that the transfer would cause concern.
- When the CSC case management team received new information with Mr. Chalamet’s significant concerns about the transfer, they reviewed the case.
- The CSC concluded that it could manage the offender in another institution, and transferred him to one farther away from Mr. Chalamet’s home.
Tania Stirling learned from the Parole Board of Canada that the offender who harmed her had waived his right to a traditional parole hearing, opting for a paper review instead. This meant Ms. Stirling would not be able to attend the hearing or read her victim statement.
She could only submit a written statement.
Nevertheless, Ms. Stirling still wanted to make herself heard, so she consulted the Parole Board of Canada website and discovered that victims could submit an audio or video recording of themselves reading their victim statements. However, her Regional Communications Officer told her that this option was not available in her case. Ms. Stirling felt that this decision violated her right to participation under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, so she made a complaint to the Parole Board. The bill states that every victim has the right to: convey their views about decisions in the criminal justice system that affect their rights, and have those views considered, and present a victim impact statement and have it considered in the criminal justice system.
Ms. Stirling contacted our Office, and we followed up with the Parole Board. Specifically:
- We noted the conflicting information:
Ms. Stirling had encountered about the policy on presenting victim statements.
- The Parole Board sent Ms. Stirling an official response, including an apology for the misinformation and the distress it had caused.
- The Parole Board permitted Ms. Stirling to submit an audio or video recording of her victim statement.
- The board sent a directive to all Regional Communications Officers in the Ontario region to clarify its policy on the right of victims to submit recorded victim impact statements.
- Ms. Stirling contacted our Office again because, although these were positive steps, she was not fully satisfied. We worked with her to understand what outcome she desired. We discovered that she wanted the Parole Board of Canada to inform all Regional Communications Officers across Canada—not just those in Ontario—about the corrected policy. We wrote to the Board on her behalf to make this request.
The victim was satisfied with the resolution because:
- She was able to submit her recorded statement.
- The Parole Board of Canada reviewed and clarified its policy and updated staff across Canada to help ensure that going forward, all registered victims would receive consistent information.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am for your response and attention. I will not give up.”
—An OFOVC client2 Both case studies use pseudonyms to protect the victims’ identities.
Submissions to the Government
As part of our mandate, we provide direct advice to government by appearing at parliamentary committees and making recommendations to federal ministers. This year, we identified issues and provided recommendations through five submissions and one letter. The status of each is presented here.
Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women
Study on the System of Shelters and Transition Houses Serving Women and Children Affected by Violence Against Women and Intimate Partner Violence.
In October 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women invited the public to submit written briefs for consideration in its study of federal programs, funding and solutions to address the gap between the need for and the availability of shelters and transition houses for victims of human trafficking and women and children affected by domestic violence.
- Consider targeted investments aimed at closing gaps in the availability of shelters and transition houses in rural, remote and Northern communities to address the committee’s previous recommendations.
- Bring a victim-centric lens—one that is intersectional in its approach and grounded in human rights—to the legislation being developed to support the National Housing Strategy and its initiatives.
- Lead a coordinated, well-resourced National Action Plan to Address and Prevent Gender- Based Violence in Canada and ensure it results in equitable distribution of supports and services across the country.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women met between October 15, 2018 and March 19, 2019. On March 19, it adopted Report 15: Surviving Abuse and Building Resilience – A Study of Canada’s Systems of Shelters and Transition Houses Serving Women and Children Affected by Violence.
For more information, see “Study on the System of Shelters and Transition Houses Serving Women and Children Affected by Violence Against Women and Intimate Partner Violence.”
“Thank you for listening to me and helping me find clarity in moving forward, in the 20 years since this has happened this is the first time I feel heard.”
—An OFOVC client
Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence
Bill C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
For nearly a decade, the OFOVC has been calling for changes that would bring legislated victims’ rights into the military justice system. Bill C-77 seeks to bridge this gap by affirming victims’ rights in the system. The Ombudsman noted opportunities to strengthen the bill through this submission.
- Include a preamble indicating that victims’ rights matter and expressing how victims should expect to be treated.
- Define roles and responsibilities for enforcing victims’ rights in the military justice system to ensure that victims can access their rights in a coordinated, straightforward, transparent and timely way.
- Require the implementation of a training strategy for military justice system administrators (such as military police, prosecutors, counsel, judges and others) who are likely to come into contact with victims.
- Make specific officials responsible for accepting and reviewing victim complaints and require them to provide an annual summary of complaints.
- Introduce an appeal mechanism to address a breach or denial of a victim’s rights. Identify and empower an oversight body to review and recommend solutions to appeal complaints.
- I n cases where an offender is transferred to the civilian system, mandate a designated official to give victims the option to have a point of contact in the civilian criminal justice system.
- Require a progress review of the legislation’s implementation.
The committee studied the bill between October 23, 2018 and November 29, 2018. Four organizations provided briefs to the committee, including the OFOVC. The committee reported the bill with amendments to the House of Commons on December 3, 2018 (Report 13). The bill was before the Senate at the end of this reporting period.
Submission To The House Of Commons Standing Committee On Public Safety And National Security
Study on Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act
The OFOVC has been requesting better access for victims to Parole Board of Canada hearings for many years. Since June 1, 2016, only victims who did not attend their offender’s parole hearing have had the right to listen to an audio recording of it afterward. Bill C-83 proposes amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to give victims access to audio recordings even if they also attended a hearing. The OFOVC provided a written submission on November 19, 2018.
- Amend Bill C-83 to allow victims to access archived recordings of the hearings.
- Include Parole Board of Canada hearings regarding temporary absences among those eligible for audio recordings.
- Improve the sound quality of audio recordings.
- Improve online request forms to make it easier for victims to request access to audio recordings.
- Allow victims to listen to audio recordings with a support person and/or allow a victim’s representative to listen to the recording on their behalf.
- Ensure equal access for victims who are deaf or have other disabilities.
- Provide victims with more ways to listen to or participate in parole hearings.
- The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security completed its study and reported the bill with amendments on December 4, 2018 (Report 28). The amendments primarily addressed matters relating to managing the correctional system and its conditions.
The legislation was still before Parliament during this reporting period.
Submission To The Engagement Process On Reducing Violent Crime
A dialogue on handguns and assault weapons
In October 2018, Public Safety Canada began an engagement process (as part of an examination) to inform policy, regulations and legislation on reducing violent crime involving firearms. The OFOVC provided a submission to the engagement process in an effort to include perspectives on victimization in the dialogue.
- Implement a total ban on handguns and assault-style rifles in conjunction with a buyback program.
- Consider the link between firearms and gender-based violence, including human trafficking, in the dialogue on guns.
- Improve federal leadership when it comes to providing support and treatment for victims of gun violence. It is crucial to assist victims in the aftermath of a crime. Their financial, mental and physical well-being are key to regaining a sense of normalcy.
- Make it harder to obtain legal permission to transport restricted and prohibited firearms.
- Restore controls on sales of non-restricted firearms. Require gun dealers to record sales of rifles and shotguns.
- Invest in data collection and research related to firearm violence in Canada to better determine its consequences to individuals and society.
- Broaden the dialogue to include all types of firearms.
The Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, released a summary report outlining key findings on April 11, 2019. Thirty-six stakeholders made submissions, including our Office. Another 1,200 individuals with relevant experience also made submissions. A status update will be shared when available.
Submission To The Engagement Process On A New National Anti-Racism Strategy
The Government of Canada announced funding in Budget 2018 to engage the public on a new national anti-racism strategy. The engagement process launched later that year in October. The OFOVC provided a submission that emphasized why strategies to reduce racism and discrimination in Canada need to include victims’ perspectives.
- Prevent and address racially motivated hate crimes and support individuals and communities affected by them.
- Improve the experiences that Indigenous and racialized victims and survivors have in the criminal justice system.
- Fund measures to prevent and address racially motivated hate crimes and enhance victim supports.
- Amend the Criminal Code to better reflect the issues of racism and intolerance that underlie hate-motivated crime.
- Promote third party reporting as an alternative for hate crime victims. Third party reporting allows a victim to report a crime to police through a program so they can remain anonymous.
- Explore options for ensuring that restorative justice processes are responsive to victims and survivors of race-based hate crimes.
- Support opportunities for criminal justice system professionals to engage in cultural humility training. Cultural humility involves understanding personal and systemic biases and developing and maintaining respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust.
- Ensure that Canada’s anti-racism strategy commits to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and the interim and forthcoming final recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In addition to providing a written submission to the engagement process, we participated in an anti-racism forum hosted by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism. The Ombudsman engaged in passionate roundtable discussions with anti-racism advocacy stakeholders.
The report from the anti-racism forum will be shared when finalized.
Letter to Minister Ralph Goodale
Strengthening Victims’ Rights to Information, Participation and Protection in Relation to the Transfer of Federal Offenders
The OFOVC has heard from many victims who feel that their rights to information, participation and protection are not considered in transfer decisions. In January 2019, the Ombudsman provided a suite of policy recommendations to (then) Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale to address victims’ concerns about the transfer process more broadly.
- Provide advance notice to victims when a transfer is being considered.
- Give victims an opportunity to express their views concerning the transfer, and consider them.
The Hon. Ralph Goodale replied to the OFOVC’s recommendations. He acknowledged that the CSC could do a better job of communicating with victims and agreed to address the issue. The Minister also emphasized that it is important for victims to be aware of the need to register with CSC (and ensure their contact information is current) in order to receive information about the offender who harmed them.
“You’ve given me some hope today.”
—An OFOVC client
Operations and Financials
The OFOVC is an arm’s-length program activity of the Department of Justice Canada. The Office employs a full-time staff of nine people who support three units:
- Case Management
- Policy and Research
We share administrative services (e.g., procurement and human resources management) with Justice Canada to maintain cost and operational efficiencies.
Since the Ombudsman reports directly to the Minister of Justice, the OFOVC is not included in Justice Canada’s governance framework.
Some information about the OFOVC is included in Justice Canada’s 2018-19 Departmental Plan and in its Departmental Results Report. However, for performance analysis, those documents direct readers to the OFOVC’s annual report.
“I wanted to thank you for your empathetic response to my lengthy story. And although your office cannot directly assist my personal plight, I appreciate the details regarding the other outlets for me to engage with.”
—An OFOVC client
We have built a solid foundation for fiscal year 2019–2020. We will continue to improve outcomes for victims of crime. We have developed the following tactics to help us meet our objectives.
Strategic Plan 2019–2021. This document guides our employees’ work. It sets out the direction our Office will take over the next three years, and it will enable us to reach more Canadians affected by crime.
Town halls. The Ombudsman will embark on a cross-Canada tour to raise awareness of our Office. The town halls will help us connect with victims and better understand their needs.
Indigenous Advisory Circle. We will establish the Indigenous Advisory Circle to engage with Indigenous survivors of violence and experts who work with Indigenous victims. The Circle is an approach to hearing about the challenges faced by Indigenous victims and service providers in the criminal justice system.
Academic Advisory Circle. We will establish an Academic Advisory Circle to engage with victimology experts and other academics who research victims’ resilience, the impacts of trauma and violence, victims’ rights and the prevention of victimization in Canada.
Renewed website. We will update our website to improve victims’ ability to find the information they need. The site will be more accessible and user-friendly.
On to the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations conducted by the Toronto Police Service. We view missing persons as a social phenomenon of national concern.
Webinars. We will host webinars on topics related to victims’ issues. The first topic will be removing barriers and building partnerships to serve victims across jurisdictions.
New Indigenous policy and outreach team member. To build trust, better serve Indigenous survivors, contribute to reconciliation, and address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice; we will hire an Indigenous staff member.
Finally, we will continue to make recommendations to other federal agencies and departments so that policy-makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims’ needs and concerns.
Summary of actual expenditures from 2018 to 2019.
The OFOVC keeps track of expenditures by category. In 2018-2019 expenditures for salaries and wages were $801,538; for information/communications, $22,140; for training and professional dues, $3,569; for professional and special services, $57,776; for legal services $30,118; for translation Services $24,937; for other services $2,721; for rentals, $3,481; for repairs and maintenance $0, utilities, materials and supplies, $15,400; for travel and relocation, $10,715; and for other, $3,678.
The total expended by Ombudsman’s office was $920,485.
The total expended by Justice Canada was $920,485.
Public Services and Procurement Canada contributed to the cost of occupying and maintaining OFOVC premises.
The Department of Justice Canada covered certain corporate costs for the OFOVC which are not included in the expenditures reported above.