Services for those who have been victims of crime are constantly under some kind of distress. Whether it be the consistent underfunding for the services provided or the fact that they are very underused, there is a near-permanent concern that they could be cut from professional services funding at any time leaving the work of servicing victims to volunteers, already stretched organizations, and private practitioners like myself.
As it stands, victim's services programs are largely successful due to the work of a large volunteer task force managed by a handful of full-time or part-time staff. Renfrew County Victim's services is one such organization answering the call to assist when there has been a sudden death, homicide, suicide, abuse, property crime, fire, community disaster, and a long list of other scenarios where a person's life has suddenly changed. Connected to regional Victim's Services agencies is the Victim Quick Response Program which provides funding for victims of violent crime, such as homicide, domestic violence, and other emergency situations.
To help sustain funding for this service model the federal Conservatives under the leadership of then-party leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a Victim Surcharge mandatory following the conviction of a crime. In the case of minor offences the offender would pay $100.00 while major offences would see the surcharge pushed to $200.00. Since its establishment in 1989, judges had some discretion over the amount of the fine and whether or not the fine would be levied depending on the income earning of an offender. The current Liberal government, headed by Justin Trudeau, is seeking to restore judiciary discretion.
The reason I am writing about this today has little to do with the political work conducted by the last two governments but instead focuses on the efforts of a handful of offenders who are questioning the constitutionality of the surcharge on the grounds that it is a cruel and unusual punishment or violation of their right to liberty and security of the person. To-date, the Supreme Court has upheld the surcharge as offenders may seek payment extensions allowing them to take as long as 99 years to pay.
The case brings up a few very important points on either side. The more visceral reaction to this case is that offenders really shouldn't get a say - which is, of course, ridiculous considering the style of justice system currently in place (which, I'll admit, needs an overhaul). If we truly uphold a restorative style of criminal justice - which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders and the healing of victims - then the surcharge should have some manner of discretion made available by court justices. There also is the matter of demographic and statistical analysis of offenders to be considered. Lawyer Delmar Doucette brought forward 24 surcharge cases and the ones they used for the point included 12 offenders with mental illness; 6 aboriginal offenders; 5 who had suffered serious neglect and abuse as children; 18 currently struggle with addictions; and, 7 are homeless, with surcharges levied against them while their income ranges from $100 to $1,200 per month (Globe and Mail).
On the other hand, victim services must remain a priority. There already is a powerful mentality that the criminal justice system favours the comfort of those convicted over the healing of victims and this type of case, almost regardless of the outcome, will not quell that angst. As it already stands, spouses of domestic violence who leave their abuser often have to choose between levying all possible charges against their spouse or acquiring some income from their former spouse. If their spouse is imprisoned or indicted with serious offences that offender could lose their job or a portion of their income which only agitates the power struggle further.
Let us hope that the government, which has already proven itself to be soft on serious crimes, backs off and lets the courts do their best work and hope that it works out for all of those who are less fortunately, victim or perpetrator.
Just a way to get a few thoughts across outside of the office. In this blog you may even find entries that assist in your healing without needing a session