TORONTO (Feb. 27, 2007) – Ontario’s compensation system for crime victims is hurting the very people it is supposed to help, Ombudsman André Marin says in his report released today, Adding Insult to Injury.
Successive governments have ignored their own laws and stood by as the struggling Criminal Injuries Compensation Board forced victims through a gruelling bureaucratic maze, Mr. Marin’s investigation found. The report details the ordeals of several victims who fought their way through the Board’s “rule-obsessed, paper-shuffling” system that takes an average three years to process a claim.
While the Board has serious systemic problems of its own, the primary responsibility for this “colossal failure” lies with the Government of Ontario, Mr. Marin says, “because it has, through its Ministry of the Attorney General, developed a culture that is unsupportive of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and because it has made promises in the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act which have not been kept.” In addition, he says: “The Ministry of the Attorney General is acting contrary to the law and interfering with the Board’s autonomy by limiting the money available to the Board to fund its awards.”
The Board must award compensation to victims out of a budget that has not kept pace with a marked increase in claims. As a result, it has embraced delay and attrition as a survival tactic in the face of intense budget pressures, Mr. Marin found.
Mr. Marin’s investigation, conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), was prompted by an increasing number of complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office from crime victims who felt they were being revictimized by the Board’s impersonal, officious treatment and crushing case backlog – problems that were well-known to recent governments, he says.
But governments have been unable or unwilling to act, and “have chosen to watch with eyes wide shut as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board has degenerated into the failed institution it is,” Mr. Marin says. “Instead, governments, including the current one, have chosen the oldest delay strategy known to bureaucracy – pretending to act by studying the thing to death.”
Ombudsman investigators examined government documents dating back more than a decade that proposed numerous plans for reforming the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board – all of which went nowhere. Mr. Marin’s report reviews these failed plans and makes 17 recommendations for immediate action.
His key recommendation is that the Ministry of the Attorney General immediately provide the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board with the funds it needs to fulfill its promise to Ontarians. While not advising the government on spending, Mr. Marin notes that the multi-million-dollar Victim Justice Fund “sits largely unused while Ontario victims of violent crime are being harmed by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board because of budget shortfalls.”
Mr. Marin also calls on the Board to “replace a culture of survival with one of support and caring” by replacing its tendency to treat victims as files, rather than people in pain who need help, with a more human touch. To that end, he recommends the creation of an advisory group comprised of crime victims and their advocates to guide this reform.
Upon receipt of the Ombudsman’s preliminary report earlier this month, the Ministry of the Attorney General agreed to implement all of his recommendations and has pledged to have a plan in place by August 15. By contrast, the Board’s initial response indicated it “just didn’t get it,” Mr. Marin says – it failed to recognize the need for an overhaul of its practices. However, since his final report was issued, it appears the Board now agrees to all of his recommendations. It promises a “detailed action plan” by March 31.
Noting that he accepts as genuine the Board’s “sober second thought,” Mr. Marin says he will closely monitor its efforts and those of the Ministry to ensure there is a clear timetable for action. “Unless there is a sea change in our treatment of victims of crime, I fear that they will again be left in the lurch, put through the wringer by a bureaucracy in denial,” he says.
Adding Insult to Injury is the seventh published report of a Special Ombudsman Response Team investigation since Mr. Marin assumed his post in Spring 2005. Previous SORT investigations have resulted in reforms to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the Family Responsibility Office and services for the disabled and special-needs children, as well as improved screening of newborn babies for genetic diseases.