Québec City, September 15, 2016 – Today the Québec Ombudsman released an investigation report presenting its findings and recommendations concerning the public compensation system for crime victims (IVAC).
In 2014 alone, 75,063 offences against the person were reported in Québec. This goes to show the extent of this phenomenon. The victims of some of these criminal offences qualify for the public compensation system, created in 1972, when the Crime Victims Compensation Act became law. Québec’s Minister of Justice is responsible for enforcing the Act, while the system’s administration is entrusted to IVAC, which is part of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail.
As Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain sees it, "crime has many faces, and often the outcome is deeply injured victims. Their vulnerability after the fact calls for a swift, empathetic and effective response from IVAC so that they, having qualified, can be given the best care. The investigation we carried out showed that, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case."
While in favour of an update of the Crime Victims Compensation Act, the Québec Ombudsman feels that action must be taken immediately because improvements can be made by working within the current legal framework without anything else having to be done. In its investigation report, the Québec Ombudsman homes in on the main problems that need correcting.
Long wait times
Several steps are involved in processing benefit applications—eligibility, needs assessment, medical opinion, decision—and the delays pile up so that the reply can be delayed by several weeks if not months. Meanwhile, victims may be waiting for an income replacement indemnity or indispensable assistance such as therapy.
Gaps in information to victims
Information that makes it possible for victims to understand how assistance works and the conditions for receiving it is incomplete. Similarly, when an application for benefits is turned down, the notice of refusal is often terse and sketchy concerning the grounds for the conclusion. Without details as to the basis for the refusal, victims are unable to contest the decision or properly exercise the recourse available to them.
Access to the system and to services and indemnities
Often IVAC favours a restrictive interpretation of the Crime Victims Compensation Act, applies it rigidly or imposes conditions not found in it. For example, sometimes victims must prove not only that the crime really occurred, but also prove the exact circumstances of the crime, including motive. This goes far beyond what the Act requires.
Another example: according to the Crime Victims Compensation Act, an application for benefits must be made within two years “of the occurrence of the material damage or the injury suffered by the victim, or of his death.” “The occurrence” is the moment the victim becomes aware of the damage suffered and of its probable connection with the criminal offence. But, in many cases, IVAC considers that the clock starts ticking with victims’ first serious physical injury, even if victims say that they became aware recently of a psychological injury stemming from the same crime. One of the results is that victims whose psychological injuries emerge later or who become aware of them only later are denied access to the system.
Furthermore, the Act provides that, after the two-year deadline, victims can still prove on any valid grounds that they have not renounced the right to avail themselves of the benefits of the plan. However, generally the only reason IVAC accepts for allowing a late application is the fact that it was impossible for the claimant to act sooner—a very demanding requirement. In the Québec Ombudsman’s opinion, this approach is inconsistent with the spirit of a public system that has a social and reparatory purpose that calls for broader and more liberal interpretation along with flexible application.
The investigation report brings into focus several other problems with the administration of the compensation system. With a view to solutions, the Québec Ombudsman made 33 recommendations that could be implemented without changing the current legal framework. They are aimed mainly at:
- reducing the wait time at every stage of application processing;
- ensuring access to the system and to services and indemnities by allowing the applicable laws their full breadth;
- improving information quality and clarity so that victims are given greater support for the compensation process;
- systematically contact every victim verbally concerning needs assessment;
- when a decision is not in the victim’s favour, providing clear and sufficient explanations as to why the application was not approved so that victims understand the grounds for refusal and are able to properly exercise recourse if need be;
- making the decisional process more rigorous, especially concerning Bureau médical opinions that are contrary to those of the professionals whom the victims saw;
- allowing reconsideration of faulty decisions in certain situations, in accordance with the Workers’ Compensation Act and Supreme Court criteria, so as to prevent reliance on the courts.
The Québec Ombudsman feels that if the recommendations of the report are implemented, administration of the system will be more in sync with victims’ needs and mindful of the context that led victims to need help in the first place.
Report (PDF Summary, 222,4 KB): Compensation for crime victims: for effective and prompt management of vulnerable people
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Carole-Anne Huot, 418 646-7143/418 925-7994