Thursday, November 10, 2011

Omnibus Forum and an Advocate for Survivor's of Violence

In October I participated on a community organizing committee seeking to educate the public on Bill C10.  The Harper governments Safe Streets and Communities Act.  The committee members spent considerable time discussing who should be invited as speakers.  We wanted to ensure a range of people were heard from on the impacts this Bill will have on Canadians.  One committee member suggested we might invite someone not opposing the Bill in order to provide insight from that side of the podium too.  While I could see why he would make that suggestion - to allow the event a certain level of credibility - as in "see were hearing from everyone, its a well rounded debate", while I could see his point, I did not agree.  I think the Right, the conservatives have their voice heard and have greater access to the public podium than those of us who actually care about people.  We don't need to provide them additional space.  However this did get us talking and thinking about what other view points are important in a discussion about how to address harm.  Another committee member suggested we invite someone to speak on the issues affecting victims.  And it was agreed that we should look for someone who could provide a balanced, but most of all honest view point on what victims go through as they traverse the criminal "justice" system, what they need, and how they can best be supported.  

I personally was pretty nervous about ensuring the person we invited to speak on this important piece was not from the "Release them Later, Release them Sicker" camp - Issue Solved - Victim Healed and that's it. 

I don't believe in everything Steve Sullivan  does when it comes to survivor's of violence, but I certainly believe he is on the right track and that he has a sound knowledge of what victims to heal.

Take a look at this post from Steve's Blog, "crime victim advocacy"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An email to Stephen Woodworth, Tory MP

Stephen Woodworth is a Tory MP who sits on the Justice Committee. When I testified on Bill C-10, he asked me a question and refused to let me provide a full answer...we got into a bit of a shouting match. I wanted to ensure he and all the members had a more fullsome answer than the one I was permitted to give so I sent him, and all the committee members, this email:

Dear Mr. Woodworth:

During my appearance before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, you asked me a question towards the end of the meeting. Your preamble was rather lengthy and you refused to allow me the opportunity to fully answer your question. I will paraphrase what I understood to be your question: “Over the past 2.5 years that you have spent on the Committee, every crime victim that has testified has said they want tougher sentences so how is it I do not hear this same message?” I summarized a rather lengthy preamble so I hope I have captured the essence of your question.

My answer, had you allowed to me to provide it, would have been that over the last 18 years, I have met with, spoken to, communicated with, cried with, supported and advocated for hundreds of individuals and their families. They have been families of homicide victims, people left with severe disabilities from impaired driving crashes, women who were abused by their partners, men who were abused as children, sexual assault survivors, victims of terrorism, victims of hate crimes, victims of robbery, and the list goes on.

I appreciate the committee hears from crime victims and would encourage the committee to hear from immigrant women who have experienced partner abuse, women who have been terrorized in their homes by husbands who owned guns, Aboriginals who have been repeatedly victimized, people with disabilities who were sexually abused and other vulnerable Canadians who are often at a much higher risk of being victimized than you or I. My guess is that your committee has not heard these voices.

Your suggestion that victims speak with one voice about tougher penalties does not reflect my experience or the research. One cannot reduce the experiences of unique individuals with different life experiences and who experience victimization individually to a single minded focus on punishment. It simply does not address the complex needs of those victimized by violence and does them a disservice.

The reality is Bill C-10 will not impact most victims of crime because most do not report. There is no evidence Bill C-10 will increase reporting rates. As I mentioned, a small minority of women who have experienced sexual violence report the crimes but when asked why not, light sentences are not a common reason. When survivors are asked why they did report, only a minority say it was to see the offender punished. Most children who are abused will not report; most exploited street youth will not report; most abused women will not report; etc. Bill C-10 will address none of their needs.

When I said that sentencing is not identified as an issue for many victims, it is because most of their needs are not addressed by how much the offender is or is not punished - financial issues, the need for counseling, the treatment they received in the criminal justice system, long term safety, etc. are often more pressing needs. Even for those that do place more importance on sentencing, Bill C-10 offers false hope because the evidence of the Crown Attorney's Association suggests there will be more plea bargaining and more stays.

Sentencing is more important for some victims than others, but the problem with Bill C-10 is that is all they are being offered and the public is being told this will enhance justice for victims. You are asking victims if they support Bill C-10 but if the question was different, say should the government spend 5 times more on healing child victims or punishing offenders , some may have a different answer. I submit to you that the government's priority of spending five times as much money on punishing offenders than it does on healing children does not put victims first.

There is so much more I could say, but I felt it important to clarify my position because your synopsis of my position was misleading. I would also ask you to carefully review the statement of Wilma Derksen who testified before the committee today, and would refer you to some of the editorials written by those who have been affected by violence which are part of CSC"s Basic Toolkit on National Restorative Justice Week (which can be found on their website) for more differing views on what justice means.

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