Ottawa

Sexual abuse survivors angry after province cuts crime victims fund

Some victims of violent crime and sexual abuse say the recent elimination of a compensation program means they can no longer get counselling services they desperately need.

Many victims of historical sexual crimes no longer eligible for compensation

Melissa Heimerl, executive director of Ottawa Victim Services, says victims of violent crime or sexual abuse have valid complaints about the province's recent decision to dissolve the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Some victims of violent crime and sexual abuse say the Ontario government's elimination of a compensation program this fall means they can no longer get counselling services they desperately need or were previously awarded.

Until the end of September, victims could receive up to $30,000, including a maximum $5,000 for pain and suffering, through the the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and its related programs.

The new system, however, only covers costs for immediate needs.

Melissa Heimerl, the executive director of Ottawa Victim Services, said the "biggest downfall" is the change to counselling and therapy services.

Survivors who now apply for counselling will only be compensated for $1,000, or roughly 10 sessions, according to Heimerl.

"As a councillor myself, you're not doing a lot of trauma treatment in 10 sessions of counselling, especially if it's historical sexual violence," she said.

Strict criteria

The number of victims who will even qualify under the province's new Victim Quick Response Plus Program will be limited by new strict eligibility criteria, Heimerl said.

Under this program, brought in Oct. 1, an applicant must have visited a "victim service agency" within six months of the crime against them, or within six months of disclosing that crime to authorities.

That means some survivors of historical sexual abuse victimized in childhood will not be eligible, Heimerl said.

One victim who reached out to CBC falls into that category. He was molested by his elementary school teacher when he was just 11, and recently found out the new program will not provide him with counselling.

"Every person should have access to therapy for free, especially if you're a victim of a violent crime," said the victim, whose name remains protected by a publication ban.

"That should be included in our health care."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks in the Ontario Legislature in Toronto. His government decided to cut and change the compensation programs for victims of crime in the spring budget. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Victims 'validly' have complaints

Kelly Grenier, another survivor of historical sexual abuse who'd been awarded compensation through the former program, said she was expecting compensation for approximately 20 therapy sessions.

After the cuts came down this fall, her coverage changed without notice, she said.

We've been receiving a lot of phone calls from folks who are upset, validly, and are wanting their voice to be heard.- Melissa Heimerl

"[There was] no grandfathering, no transitioning into the new program," said Grenier, who lives in Morrisburg, Ont.

Grenier said her therapist is having trouble getting reimbursed by the province for her previous sessions as well.

"If there's no one in an office to process claim forms, it's like having an insurance company that's gone bankrupt," she said.

Heimerl said Ottawa Victim Services is passing on these kinds of complaints to the office of Doug Downey, Ontario's attorney general.

"We've been receiving a lot of phone calls from folks who are upset, validly, and are wanting their voice to be heard," she said.

Province cites administrative savings

The Doug Ford government said it dissolved the compensation board, which had been giving financial awards to crime victims since 1971, and repealed the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act in order to eliminate administrative costs and get money into victims' hands faster.

In September, a release from the Ministry of the Attorney General said the new "enhanced" program would make it easier for victims to access services and supports.

According to an annual report from the now-defunct board, pain and suffering awards accounted for about $33 million of claims paid out in 2017-2018.

Overhauling the system is expected to save up to $23 million annually starting in 2021-22, according to the province, which intends to reinvest $6 million each year in victim services.

'Cruel' cuts raised at Queen's Park

The overhaul is of little comfort to Grenier, however, who said she feels like the system has failed her.

"They think it's going to be better, but they've basically turned their back on victims of crime like myself. I mean I've had historical sexual abuse and I'm still dealing with the PTSD," said Grenier.

In the Ontario Legislature Thursday, NDP MPP Jill Andrew brought up Grenier's plight.

"She doesn't know where to turn next. She and other survivors were never consulted or informed about these cruel and retroactive cuts," said the Toronto–St. Paul's MPP, herself a survivor of child sexual abuse.

"It's not too late for this Conservative government to do the right thing and reverse course."

In response, Downey defended the changes, saying his government had reformed outdated programs and was putting "resources in [survivors'] hands immediately at every turn."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca