It is not surprising that the consequences of crime fall hardest on its victims. While it is sometimes difficult to evaluate the extent of the effects of crime, it has been estimated that 67% of the financial burdens resulting from crime–including replacing property and possessions, lost wages, health costs, time off work, funeral costs, and various other out-of-pocket expenses—are borne by the victims of crime.
This leads to an important societal question: should we leave victims to assume the greater part of those financial losses which crime has occasioned?
Since the late twentieth century, the answer to that question in both the international and domestic spheres has been, increasingly, no.
See for instance, The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 29 November 1985.
A primary means by which government has sought to ameliorate the financial burden of crime on those who were not responsible for it has been through providing victims with financial compensation. Victim compensation is also the earliest type of organized victim assistance in Canada and the United States.
With the exception of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut, every province and territory in Canada administers a comprehensive victim financial assistance program. [FN1]
In Ontario, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board is the quasi-judicial administrative tribunal that assesses and provides financial compensation for victims of violent crime. It was established under the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act (CVCA) in 1971. Ontario has been unique in its use of an adjudicative model: a specialized administrative tribunal to review cases of criminal injury and provide compensation where appropriate. The Board’s process is often inquisitorial in nature, and it has not been uncommon for the Board to take an active role in questioning applicants and witnesses in order to determine the merits of applications.
In its 2019 Budget, the Government of Ontario announced that it will dissolve Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and repeal its enabling legislation.
See Government of Ontario, 2019 Budget, at page 341:
In place of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, the Government will implement a paper-based process offered through the Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario). Those applying for compensation after the cut-off date (to be set by the Lieutenant Governor in Council) will have to do so through the Government’s new victims’ financial assistance program.
The Budget does not go so far as to set out a time frame for the dissolution of the Board and repeal of the CVCA. Applications already submitted to the Board will be subject to a cap of $5000 for pain and suffering. Without question, pain and suffering has constituted the most significant benefit type within victim compensation awards, accounting for about 80% of the total payments issued. [FN2].
While the Government intends to increase the maximum lump sum payment amount for one victim from $25,000 to $30,000, this is likely to have little effect. The Board rarely awards lump sum compensation near the $25,000 level. It is difficult to believe that awards will increase under the Government’s administrative model, especially given the $5000 cap placed on any amount awarded for pain and suffering. Presumably, this cap will be maintained past the end of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
Written by Stuart O’Connell, O’Connell Law Group (All rights reserved to author).
[FN] Nova Scotia awards compensation through its Criminal Injuries Counselling Program. The program is limited to maximum payments of $2000.00 to pay for professional counselling services to help victims deal with trauma resulting from crime. The program has come under criticism for being so limited in scope and response.