Toronto

Ford government's overhaul of crime victim compensation hurts most vulnerable, advocates say

Advocates for victims of crime say the Ford government's overhaul of the system that compensates their clients doesn't actually help them.

Province dissolved previous system Sept. 30, saying it was inefficient

The Progressive Conservative government scrapped the way victims of crime were compensated in late September. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Rebecca still struggles with what happened to her when her boyfriend forced her into the sex trade at 16, trapping her in that life for almost six months. 

"I still have nightmares," she told CBC Toronto during a telephone interview, adding it took her several years before she could go back to high school.

But the 21-year-old, who CBC News is not identifying for her protection, doesn't know how much money she'll receive from the province as a victim of crime, or if it will be enough to help her put her life back together.

"I lost everything. I'm starting to build things back up. More [money] would have helped me in the long run." 

Rebecca decided to apply for compensation before the rules that govern compensation for victims of crime officially came into effect Sept. 30. The province announced the changes were coming in the April budget, saying the previous system was inefficient and didn't get money to victims fast enough.

But advocates for people like Rebecca say that overhaul is ineffective in helping them start over because it only focuses on short term needs. 

Under the previous program, victims or families of victims could be compensated up to a total of $30,000, including a maximum of $5,000 for pain and suffering. The new system only covers costs based on immediate needs, like hotels, dental work or tattoo removal.

Nurse practitioner and researcher Naomi Thulien says her clients need a lot of help to move on. (Submitted by Naomi Thulien)

Nurse practitioner and researcher Naomi Thulien and her colleagues wrote as many applications as they could on behalf of their clients before the system overhaul came into effect. 

Thulien has many clients who have been sexually trafficked and said short term costs can be a burden. But she also  said victims struggle the most with longer term needs that used to be covered by payments for pain and suffering. Those payments could cover things like loss of income.

She said the government's changes affect the "most marginalized." 

"They haven't finished high school. They don't have a home to live in and have no family support," she said. "Some of us in society need a little bit more just to even out the playing field." 

According to an annual report from the previous board that governed compensation to victims, pain and suffering awards accounted for about $33 million of claims paid out in 2017-2018. That's about 95 per cent of the board's total payments. 

But the Ford government said it dissolved the Ontario's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which has been giving financial awards to crime victims since 1971, and repealed the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act, to get rid of the administrative costs and get more money into the hands of victims faster.

"It's about putting resources at the front end," said Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey, whose ministry now oversees the file. He said the government has doubled the amount allotted for immediate services. 

Downey's ministry said victims will be able to access services "easier and faster," without having to pay out of pocket. 

But while the province said the overhaul will save about $23 million a year, Rebecca's lawyer David Shellnutt warns of long term costs to the government. 

"[My clients] are going to languish on social assistance. And drain the health care system because of the severe trauma they've experienced." 

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