Crime victims who have the tenacity to work their way through the bureaucratic maze of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board will not find a pot of gold at the end of their demeaning journey.
The Ontario Ombudsman, André Marin, has found that the board is in a state of "perpetual inefficiency."
Marin did not mince words. He was shocked to discover that a government program supposedly born of compassion is the cause of secondary victimization for many victims of crime.
Marin revealed in the scathing report Adding Insult To Injury, released last week, that, on average, crime victims had to wait an "astounding" three years for their claims to be processed - even though most of the claims involved immediate financial needs like funeral and medical costs and lost wages.
The dilatory process, which Marin found highly impersonal and insulting, apparently requires victims to complete a "documentary avalanche" of repetitive forms. Claims have been denied for failing to dot an "i." And more than 25,000 "virtual" cases are lost in the system because of this "rulitis," a slavish adherence to rules and forms without regard to common sense.
The report is a devastating critique of government indifference and insensitivity. Marin believes that the board has become "so dysfunctional that it often causes more frustration and hurt to crime victims than it relieves." Instead of providing meaningful and genuine assistance to people who have been injured and traumatized by violent crime, the board "has chosen to befriend bureaucracy, delay and mindless formalism."
The issue is not money. There is $80 million sitting idle in the Victims' Justice Fund.
What the disgraceful failure of victim compensation has exposed is the unprincipled and manipulative workings of law-and-order politics.
The sad plight of crime victims has been exploited for decades by politicians who discovered that a law-and-order agenda was a political bestseller and that victims' suffering was the best way to promote this agenda.
But once the crime victims' losses are transformed into political gain, very few politicians stick around to see if their promises of reform have been meaningfully implemented.
Nobody really noticed or cared about the plight of the crime victim until the 1960s. Until then, victims were mere evidentiary fodder, their sole function to give evidence and get lost. The exposure of this injustice set in motion a frenetic law reform enterprise dedicated to addressing the needs of crime victims. The statutory changes over the next four decades were fast and furious.
First came state compensation, then victim services like counselling and victim/witness assistance programs, and then the revolution in evidence and procedure of the 1970s and 80s that allowed some victims to testify behind screens, on closed-circuit TV or with the assistance of a support person.
Eventually, victims were given a modest voice in the judicial process with the introduction of victim impact statements at sentencing and parole hearings. By the 1990s, every province had enacted Victims' Bills of Rights with provisions ensuring that victims would be able to provide input to the Crown before critical prosecutorial decisions were finalized.
Victim-related law reform became the flavour of the month for ambitious politicians who believed they could win electoral popularity contests by effusive demonstrations of sympathy for victims of crime.
The law reform frenzy has ended, and now we're finding that victim satisfaction with the process has not improved despite all the legislative changes. Some contend that victims will never be satisfied, because wearing the mantle of victimhood leads to perpetual bellyaching and whining. But it's clear that the primary cause of dissatisfaction is the fact that legislative reform was more apparent than real.
In law-and-order politics, appearances rule. It's important to be seen as having compensation programs and victims' rights, and it matters little if they do not adequately address real needs.
In 2000, I sued the provincial government on behalf of two crime victims who claimed that their legislative rights under the Victims' Bill of Rights had been violated. The judge responded to the claim by stating that "the legislature did not intend to provide rights to the victims of crime. The act is a statement of principle beguilingly clothed in the language of legislation. It does not establish any statutory rights for the victims of crime."
Only in the world of law-and-order politics can you find compensation programs with no money to spare and legal rights that beguile but cannot be enforced.