Victims and survivors of crime have been advocating for changes to the Criminal Victims Assistance Program.
The provincial government has moved welcome amendments, however I am concerned they don’t go far enough. We have casework in our constituency office involving children and it appears that in the proposed changes, Hon. Mike Farnworth has still not provided the children or their families the support they need.
Access to counselling, delayed reimbursement of costs, and support for the economic losses for family members (similar to the coverage provided adults) who support children who are victims of crime, is still inadequate.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Nice to see you in the chair. I would prefer not to be joining via my computer screen. However, it’s the way it has to be today.
Happy to stand, or to sit, and respond to Bill 37, Crime Victim Assistance Amendment Act, here at second reading.
I think just broadly, the Crime Victim Assistance Act is very limited in scope. Only some people are served by the program, and more support is needed. So we in the Third Party are celebrating the changes that are made by this act, and we agree that these changes are long overdue.
We appreciate the addition of grandparents and grandchildren to the expanded definition of family members, and we are appreciative that the definition of witness is also being expanded. However, we believe that the legislation needs to go further.
I’ve heard from many constituents who have shared their frustrations with the crime victim assistance program, where in our constituency office, we are dealing with these issues currently. Children who are victims of crime still have many barriers to accessing comprehensive services. If the victim of a crime is an adult, there are a number of supports that the CVAP is able to accommodate and provide, yet children who are victims of crime, under their families, are unable to access the same level of support.
I just recently wrote a letter to the minister, and I want to read it into the record here. I think that it’s a bit curious to me as to why these amendments to this legislation are coming forward without providing greater support for children who are victims of serious crimes. The government knows that these gaps exist in the legislation, so it’s inexplicable to me that the Minister of Solicitor General and Public Safety would stand to table amendments and still leave children outside the protection and supports that are provided by the crime victims services program.
These are the contents of my letter to the Solicitor General.
“I’m writing in response to concerns that have been raised with our office regarding the crime victim services program and the limitations that are preventing essential supports from being provided in a timely and effective manner. It seems particularly important to raise these concerns, considering that Bill 37, the Crime Victim Assistance Amendment Act, was tabled earlier this session.” The one that we’re debating today.
“The CVSP exists with the intent to assist ‘victims, immediate family members and some witnesses in coping with the effects of violent crime. It provides financial benefits to help offset financial losses and assist in recovery.’
“While I wish to recognize the importance of this program, it feels necessary to raise specific concerns that have been brought to my attention to ensure that this service provides the meaningful and comprehensive support that victims of crime require. These specific concerns broadly relate to (1) supports for children and families and (2) access to services.
“With respect to…. Regarding supports for children and their families who are victims of crime, it has been made clear to our office that the CVSP is inadequately provisioned to support children and their families in the wake of crime. Below, I’ve identified several examples that outline apparent insufficiencies in the present system.
“The CVSP legislation does not cover family counselling. Family counselling can be an essential support to assist families and a child that was a victim of crime to navigate the recovery.
“Economic losses for immediate family members are not covered. When an adult experiences financial loss as an immediate consequence of a crime or in recovering from the effects of a crime, the CVSP will cover portions of those losses.
“For families that incur economic losses to support their child in the wake of a crime — an example is time off work — there are no supports provided.
“While an option exists to sue the offender, this is an additional step that can require the child to be involved in the proceedings. This may not be possible or may cause unnecessary distress for a child.
“Items that are purchased to allow immediate family members to support the child do not appear to be eligible for coverage. Items that would normally be covered for adults to ‘assist in recovery’ are not eligible for coverage if parents are using them to support their child.
“Compensation for counselling is very limited. Often the cost of obtaining appropriate practitioners that are specialized to work with children and address specific traumatic experiences far exceeds the cost covered by the CVSP.
“It should be noted here as well that any administrative costs associated with counsellors or psychologists are not covered, and these expenses can be significantly higher when they pertain to children.
“Regarding access to services, it seems self-evident that being able to access supports as needed is essential to effective recovery. Unnecessary delays and barriers to accessing more care more generally should therefore be avoided where possible.
“Two concerns that have been raised with our office regarding access to services follow. Coverage of many services occur through reimbursement and is not provided up front. Many services that are covered by the CVSP, such as counselling, are reimbursed eventually, but the individual is required to pay for those services up front. Frequently these up-front costs can be a substantial burden for individuals and act as a barrier to accessing services.
“Getting approval for services can be a lengthy process. Our office has been made aware of situations in which approval for services such as counselling has been delayed months. As acknowledged above, the CVSP plays an important role in helping victims of crime navigate their recovery. However, it is in recognizing the value of such a program that I feel obligated to raise concerns about the current limitations of the CVSP and push for a more comprehensive service that supports the diversity of individuals requiring support.”
That’s the end of my letter. I think that it is important that when the minister stands to speak to this bill, he explain why it is that these gaps remain, even after opening this bill for some amendments, and amendments that we broadly support. I think he needs to explain why it is that this bill is silent on those issues.
Further, I want to just raise the point about how the funding model works, and access to funding, and the reimbursement model in particular. There is no doubt that this will have a disproportionate impact on those victims of crimes that cannot afford to pay for their services, their counselling services and other services, up front. And it is going to be increasingly unlikely for families that can marginally afford to pay for these services to go and get those services if they know that the money that they are putting out up front is not going to come back in a reasonable amount of time.
Indeed, if there’s no way for them to plan and there are several months in between the time that they submit their receipts for reimbursement and actually get the funds reimbursed, in the time that we are right now, where folks are struggling to just make ends meet and folks are struggling to pay the bills, this is going to be incredibly challenging for those families to take care…. I want to focus here specifically on their children.
However, this is a problem that appears to be more broadly applicable within this service. There has to be a better way to do this. I agree with the member of the opposition, the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, who noted…. Even as I expand, in my speech, the number of people that may be able to apply for these funds…. To expand the scope of this without expanding the budget, to think that you’re going to get better results stretching a budget that has already been deemed to be inappropriate or to lack the scale of the problem that we’re facing, the entire system just continues to get more stressed out.
I certainly hope that in Budget ’24, this minister gets to celebrate an increase in the crime victim services program funding, because otherwise, we’re going to do this good work by updating the legislation, but the actual victims of crimes in our province aren’t going to receive the benefit of that. The only benefit that would be deemed from that would be of the minister and the government to get to stand and claim that they made the legislative changes.
But without the funding, it’s not actually going to support or benefit the people who actually need it. We implore the government to come up with a different system than this reimbursement system, which really, really disproportionately impacts those who can least afford it. The most vulnerable, marginalized in our society are less likely to go and get those services if they know that this system is inefficient and doesn’t reimburse them in a prompt way.
I’m looking forward to hearing from the minister about the reasons why he left children out of these amendments. As well, there are some pretty serious questions that we have around section 6 of this bill. We’ll be having those conversations in the upcoming stages of the debate.
With that, I take my seat. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.