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Ontario Ombudsman slams criminal injury compensation board as 'colossal failure' (The Globe and Mail

Ontario Ombudsman slams criminal injury compensation board as 'colossal failure' (The Globe and Mail)

The Globe and Mail
Wed 28 Feb 2007
Page: A6
Section: National News
Byline: Timothy Appleby
Source:
Edition: METRO
Length: 826 words
 

Company: Criminal Injuries Compensation Board; Canadian Crime Victims Foundation

 

TIMOTHY APPLEBY - Chronically underfunded,
absurdly bureaucratic, Ontario's Criminal Injuries
Compensation Board is a "colossal failure" that treats
people "like rats in a cage," the provincial
Ombudsman said yesterday in a blistering indictment
of the board and it's overseer, the Ministry of the
Attorney-General.

Soon after Ombudsman Andre Marin's critique
landed, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised that the
province will implement its recommendations.
"I accept the report as delivered, I thank him for his
advice, and we are going to act on it," Mr. McGuinty
told reporters.

There looks to be nowhere to go but up. Mr. Marin's
withering rebuke of the backlog-choked CICB, titled
Adding Insult to Injury, highlights cases that in
places seem plucked from unfunny Monty Python
episodes.

It cites the father whose five-year-old daughter was
raped and murdered and "was treated as though he
was trying to scam the board out of a few thousand
dollars to pay for her funeral."

Another claimant's bid for compensation was rejected
in part because she had forgotten to dot one of the i's
in her name. In a third case, the victim died before
any money was paid out.

It was largely because of the system's shortcomings,
and its $25,000 lump-sum ceiling per individual, that
lawyers for North York shooting victim Louise Russo
last year successfully negotiated a controversial
$2-million package for her, paid with criminal
underworld funds.

On average, Mr. Marin found, it takes three years to
process a crime victim's compensation claim in
Ontario. That compares with two months in Quebec
and six months in British Columbia, both of which in
2004-5 processed many more claims than Ontario's
total of 2,654.

From 1998 to 2004, claims in the province soared by
148 per cent, producing 4,000 to 5,000 completed
applications each year.

The board's budget, however, rose just 2.5 per cent
over that same period.

"The root of the problem is that the CICB has been
starved of resources," Mr. Marin said yesterday.
"It's operating a $40-million operation on a
$20-million budget," deploying an "official document
fetish" reinforced by "an unwritten code of
underground practices, delays, and bureaucracy."

In particular, the Ombudsman criticized the practice
of withholding compensation until criminal charges
have been dealt with in court, which can take years.
That's inexcusable, he said, because common sense is
often sufficient to determine whether a person's
injuries stem from crime.

"If someone shows up at the hospital . . . and there's a
police report, you've got it all documented."

Moreover, by refusing to compensate crime victims
with money from the province's Victims of Justice
Fund (which funds programs and services and
currently has an $80-million surplus), the ministry is
violating the legislation that governs the CICB, Mr.
Marin said.

The outspoken Ombudsman weighed into the
36-year-old system because of the growing number
of complaints his office was fielding from victims
who felt that, far from being eased, their injuries were
exacerbated by the board.

"It's remarkable, what we've been saying for seven
years is now validated," said Joe Wamback of
Newmarket, whose son, Jonathan, was beaten into a
coma in 1999 when he was 15, sustaining long- term
physical and mental damage.

Founders of the Canadian Crime Victims Foundation,
Mr. Wamback and his wife, Lozanne, spent years
trying to secure some interim compensation from the
CICB before abandoning their efforts in 2005. Other
crime victims "don't even have the courage and
strength to fill out the forms and we don't blame
them," Mr. Wamback said, citing the board's "total
lack of compassion and understanding."

London truck driver Aurelio Almeida, whose
five-year-old daughter Naiomi was raped and
murdered in 2001, concurred. Efforts to secure
reimbursement for funeral costs and lost wages,
initially denied, dragged on for years before he and
his nine-year-old son were finally awarded $7,000
apiece for nervous shock. The family also got $6,000
for Naiomi's funeral -- four years after the event.

"My son and I still suffer each day," Mr. Almeida
said, citing financial losses that exceed $20,000.
"And then they ask me, 'How are you a victim?' What
kind of a question is that?"

CICB chair Marsha Greenfield wrote to Mr. Marin
last week expressing broad agreement with much of
his critique, listing new initiatives under way, and
promising to file "a detailed plan of action" by the
end of next month. She did not respond yesterday to
messages seeking comment.

Ms. Greenfield was first appointed to the board by
the Progressive Conservative government in 1996,
was appointed chair in 1998 and reappointed with
all-party support in 2005 through to July, 2008.

Mr. Marin's key recommendations:
* Make more money available immediately to clear
up the backlog of claims and process new ones.
* The Attorney-General's Ministry must
acknowledge in writing that the CICB is an
independent, quasi-judicial body and not a ministry
program.
* The ministry must cease pressing the board to
delay or reduce awards.
* Outreach initiatives should be launched, to ensure
crime victims understand their rights.

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