KINGSTON — From 2010 to 2017, Christie Jefferson sat on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which offers financial support to victims of violent crime in Ontario. In 2017, she was selected as its vice-chair. Then, in February, the government informed her that her term would not be renewed. Now, with the Tories preparing to dissolve the board and change the way victims are compensated, Jefferson is concerned that some of the province’s most vulnerable people are being forgotten.
Ontario’s 2019 budget, titled “Protecting What Matters Most,” states that a task force charged with reviewing government agencies has recommended “the dissolution of 10 provincial agencies, as they have become unnecessary, or because there are more cost-effective ways of achieving their goals.” The CICB is one of those agencies.
“The CICB is a [Progressive] Conservative creation. This is something they should be proud of,” Jefferson says. “They’ve always been hard on crime and very supportive of victims. It doesn’t add up.”
The CICB was formed in 1971 by Bill Davis’s PC government with a mandate to compensate victims of violent crime for pain and suffering, loss of income, funeral expenses, treatment expenses, and “other costs that result from being a victim of the crime.”
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“The criminal-justice system is designed to convict criminals; it’s not designed to help victims,” says Jefferson. “There’s been a historic recognition that victims are really almost like collateral damage in the process and that the public should help those victims.”
Doug Ford’s PC government intends to replace the CICB’s board of adjudicators with a bureaucratic “administrative” model to assess applicants. The maximum claim for pain and suffering would be capped at $5,000 (currently, it’s capped at $25,000; the other compensation categories are not capped). The maximum single lump-sum payment per applicant would jump from $25,000 to $30,000.
While the increased overall cap may appear to be beneficial to victims, some experts say it’s not as simple as that. Deirdre McDade, co-director of legal services for the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre, in Belleville, notes that the CICB’s most recent annual report shows that the board awarded 3,569 applicants a total of $32.8 million in 2017-18 for pain and suffering. If the maximum had been capped at $5,000 per person, the total would have been, at most, $17.8 million. So, McDade says, while the total per-victim cap may soon be higher, applicants will have a tougher time reaching it.
“Our clients are people living in poverty,” she says, noting that her clinic helps low-income clients navigate the legal system. “This compensation is important to them.”
McDade is co-chair of an advisory committee whose role is to examine the program’s effectiveness and efficiency. “No one on that committee was ever consulted about the changes. They came out of the blue,” she says. “And we still really don’t have any information, other than what was in the budget.”
Many social workers are concerned about the changes, too. Laura Bloom, who offers counselling and social-work services in Toronto, started a petition after seeing colleagues discussing the issue online. So far, it has received 900 signatures. She plans to send it to the attorney general’s office when it reaches 1,000. “Everyone is talking about these changes,” she says. “They’re talking about cutting a lot of funds for people who have experienced pain and suffering. This could cause a lot of challenges, especially for those people living with trauma.”
On April 16, at Queen’s Park, Liberal MPP Marie-France Lalonde asked Attorney General Caroline Mulroney — with reference to the title of the Tories’ budget document — “How is cutting compensation for victims of crime protecting what matters most?”
Mulroney argued that the program was ineffective. Citing a 2007 ombudsman’s report, she said that applicants often “have to wait up to three years to get their compensation award.” She blamed the previous government for the program’s lack of efficiency, stating that the Liberals “failed to take action to provide immediate relief for victims of crime.”
The problem, say Jefferson and McDade, is that the 12-year-old report that Mulroney cited no longer reflects reality. Last year’s annual report showed an average processing time of just 374 days.
“The ombudsman had a lot of good suggestions about how the CICB could improve,” says McDade. “And the CICB enacted nearly everything that the report raised as problematic. To use the delays as justification — it’s maddening.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General told TVO.org by email that, despite the changes, “Ontario will continue to provide the most generous compensation for victims of crime in Canada.” The ministry says that if the legislative changes — which are contained within the budget bill, currently in its third reading — are passed, “cases currently before the CICB at the time of passage” will be processed under the new system.
Tribunals Ontario, the umbrella organization that oversees the CICB, told TVO.org via email that it “will continue processing applications and hearing cases in the usual manner, until the proposed changes come into effect.”
Jefferson says she is speaking out — she’s now written op-eds in two news publications and is using her network of contacts to galvanize opposition — in hopes that the government will reconsider the move. “I’ve had people crying, who say to me, ‘Thank you for believing me; I can’t believe I’m getting this money. I can move away from my abuser,’” she says. “It can be a life-changer for people.”