Fighting for victims of crime

Gordon Legge September 5 1983

Fighting for victims of crime

Gordon Legge September 5 1983

Fighting for victims of crime


Gordon Legge

Kamal Fathallah, 48, a kindly Halifax grocer, suffered a brutal beating when a robber took $200 from his corner store last April. In Calgary, Joyce Dickens, 44, a dedicated social worker, still has trouble sleeping because of robberies three years ago in her home. And in Bolton, Ont., the lives of Carole and Douglas Cameron tragically went awry when a robber murdered their 20-year-old son, Mark, early last year. These people, and many thousands like them, are the victims of crime, the all but forgotten participants in Canada’s criminal justice system. Until recently they have had few, if any, resources available in their communities to help them through their suffering and trauma. But as new awareness of crime victims’ rights and needs spreads throughout North America, the “victim movement” is developing into a major social cause of the 1980s. A federal-provincial task force on justice for victims of crime released a 202page report in July which recommends radical improvements in the way police, social agencies and the courts treat the people caught up in the effects of crime. And last week, as 350 police chiefs from across the country met in Calgary, the theme of their annual convention was victims of crime.

Montreal lawyer Yves Fortier, president of the Canadian Bar Association, laments the fact that although most crimes have a direct victim, “in our quest to do justice to the accused, very often, quite literally, we trip over the traumatized, battered or deprived victim or his family. We do no justice to the victim.” Noted Fortier: “We have no shortage of victims in Canada. What we do have, unfortunately, are inadequate means of assisting that victim in his quest to resume his functions as a fullfledged member of society.”

On a local level, new police agencies in Calgary and Edmonton are leading the way in Canada in providing counselling and other services to victims of crime (page 42). With the task force report now under discussion, these reformers have reason to hope that their example will be followed in other centres. Said Vancouver criminologist Sveinn Thorvaldson, chairman of a B.C. government committee on assistance to victims: “Generally victims want to know what is going on. They want to know where

they can get help and how their cases are progressing. They want to speak up in court, they want the prompt return of their property and they want reparation.” What propels the victims’ movement, he says, is “the intuitive feeling that justice should be done—that they should not just be pawns in the justice system.” Federal Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan goes one step further. “I think [the movement] means a humanization of the system,” he told Maclean ’s. “I think we are in the midst of a justice revolution, of which this is just a part.” If it is a revolution, it is a wide-ranging one. The rights of victims are high on the agenda of a United Nations meeting on crime prevention to be held in 1985. The U.S. Congress passed an omnibus Victim Protection bill in 1982. As well, a report from the U.S. President’s

Task Force on Victims of Crime will be among the topics of discussion at the ninth annual North American Victim Assistance Conference next week in Jacksonville, Fla.

The scope of the problem, though difficult to measure in financial, emotional or physical terms, is staggering. An extensive Canadian Urban Victimization Survey, cited in the federal-provincial task force report, revealed that in 1981 about 700,000 people were sexually assaulted, mugged, robbed or had personal property stolen in seven major cities— Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto,

Montreal, Halifax-

Dartmouth and St. John’s. Another 900,000 householders were targets of break-ins, theft and vandalism.

According to the survey, the costs in 1981 included $211.5 million in unrecovered property and cash, $41.9 million in damaged property and $7 million in medical expenses and lost wages. In addi| tion, insurance compact nies paid victims $170 z million. In sum, the ^ costs of crime in CanI ada during 1981 in just o seven cities surpassed 5 $430 million. And even though there was direct contact with the perpetrators in only 22 per cent of the crimes, victims spent 50,500 nights in hospital and were out of work 405,700 days.

The survey did not even attempt to measure the emotional damage and costs. But, the task force reported, “we do know that the fear produced by some forms of victimization can become crippling and can turn victims inward, closing them off from social support when they need it most.” Furthermore, the victims may suffer from “secondary victimization” because, as the report indicates, “the victims’ emotional suffering may be made more acute by their experiences with the criminal justice system.” They may be ignored or even abused by the police, lawyers, courts and social agencies.

Haligonian Fathallah is painfully aware of the costs. It may be years before the grocer recovers from the pistol-whipping administered by an unknown assailant last spring that left him unconscious and bleeding on the floor of his Birmingham Street store. Five months later his jaw is still tender, and the bridge of his nose is scarred from the gash that left his floor stained with blood. Said Fathallah: “I am still afraid of what happened. Any small noise, I jump up. It was very hard. For four months my mouth and face were wired together, and I could eat no hard foods—soups and liquids only. He broke everything.”

Fortunately, Fathallah’s neighbors brought him food and flowers while he

recuperated. He has applied to Nova Scotia’s Criminal Injury Compensation Board and, if he is lucky, he will receive the maximum award of $15,000. Even so, his lawyer, Felix Cacchione, says that Fathallah is not as open or as jovial with people as he once was. “He still gets nervous when people he doesn’t know come into the store,” said Cacchione.

In Vancouver, Emily Collinge, a bright, active 90-year-old, is afraid to leave her one-room senior citizens’ apartment alone. She is still haunted by a brutal mugging three years ago at a bus stop less than a block from home. A man grabbed a string bag looped over her left wrist and, when she would not let go, dragged her half a block across

lawns and down a side street. Finally, alarmed by her cries, the assailant punched her in the face before he fled. Collinge spent five days in hospital with cuts and pulled muscles. The assailant, meanwhile, was never caught. Collinge has since received a $5,000 award, although the police did not mention that British Columbia had a Criminal Injury Compensation program: her daughter happened to find out about the program from a family friend.

Although Joyce Dickens never saw the criminals, she still bears the scars from a series of six robberies which started three years ago. In the first case, she and her husband, Richard, ar-

rived at their northwest Calgary home and discovered a jimmied back door and $15,000 worth of her jewelry stolen. Then a thief stole her fur coat in a later break-in. Since then, burglars have broken into the couple’s car and truck, and twice into the office where she works. But it was the first incident that hurt her most. Said Dickens: “I felt incredibly violated that anyone could come in and take my possessions and do what they wanted with them. I felt for quite a while that my past had disappeared.” Dickens’ anxiety lasted for months. Whenever she arrived home at night by car, she would honk the car horn defensively. Sometimes she would ring the doorbell, then sit on the steps crying, too frightened to enter. Her husband

and friends were surprised when the strong, independent outdoorswoman insisted on leaving the house lights on overnight. Even now she has trouble sleeping when her husband, a U.S. Army veteran, is away. Richard taught her how to use a gun (they keep a rifle and a shotgun in the house). And she admits, with a hollow laugh, that she still feels like putting up a sign reading: “There is no money or jewelry on the premises.”

Dickens was also uneasy about one experience with the police. Although the investigating officers were considerate the first time, she says, they humiliated her after the second robbery

by giving her the impression that they thought she had disposed of her coat to collect insurance. She laments that no one, including her husband, realized that she required extra consideration. She did not know where to turn for information about her case and recovery of her jewelry. “I didn’t feel there was anyone I could talk to about it,” says Dickens. “I wish there had been something then like Calgary’s victims’ assistance program.”

In Bolton, Ont., Carole and Douglas Cameron are determined to ensure that there is a place for victims to go. The reason is that 19 months ago, when Carole Cameron answered the front door at 5:15 a.m., police told her that her son had been murdered in Florida. Mark Massie, an employee at Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack, was her only son by a previous marriage and one of five children in the Cameron family. He had accepted a welcome offer of work at the Florida-based winter facilities of Winnipeg’s Knightsbridge Stable. On the evening of Jan. 23,1982, Massie left his room at the Hialeah Racetrack in a seedy Miami suburb to search for a restaurant. Half an hour later doctors pronounced him dead at the Hialeah General Hospital. He had been shot once in the head with a .357 magnum revolver and his pockets had been emptied of $200. His mother’s voice still breaks and her hands shake when she describes the maze of bureaucracy and official indifference which she encountered both in Canada and the United States while trying to follow her son’s case.

The final blow came last October when the accused killer, recently released from a New Jersey prison after a one-year sentence for armed robbery, was freed on a technicality. “Suddenly I realized that all rights and attention go to the bloody prisoner,” Cameron said bitterly. “The victim is treated as a statistic.” Subsequently, Cameron joined Victims of Violence, a two-year-old, 3,000-member Canadian self-help group for families of murder victims. Cameron said, “God, I hope people don’t have to have this happen to them before they do something about it.”

If the suggestions in the federal-provincial task force report are followed, something will be done. The document’s 79 recommendations provide the foundation for sweeping changes in such areas as restitution, trial procedures and victim services. If the report leads to reform, the result will be a new balance between the rights of the offender and the rights of the victim. Said task force Chairman Donald Sinclair, a Toronto political scientist: “We have attempted to indicate ways in which victims of crime can be treated justly and humanely, while at the same time protecting the rights of the offender and the needs of the state.”

The task force’s 18 civil servants examined the needs of victims and looked at existing programs throughout Canada and in the United States, France, Australia and New Zealand. They found an array of unco-ordinated and insensitive services across Canada. People complained about waiting months or years before police or court officials returned their property; about frustrating delays during trials in which they appeared as witnesses; about renewed suffering and intimidation from sitting in a courtroom with the family of the accused; and, most important, about an appalling absence of information about either their cases or how the system operates.

As a result, the task force members found that widespread disillusionment has fostered a network of unofficial anticrime groups, some verging on vigilantism. To counter the trend, the study recommended several changes to the Criminal Code, including: mandatory consideration of restitution, with the victim providing the court with an estimate of damages; photographing stolen property to be used as evidence so that property can be returned promptly; permitting “victim-impact statements” to be taken for use by a judge during sentencing; and reducing the time within which a trial or preliminary hearing must begin. The study urged police, social agencies and courts to establish a comprehensive network of services to provide victims with information, counselling, emotional support and advice about preventive measures. Finally, it recommended that the provinces consider a “fine surtax” to raise money to pay for victim services and increased crime compensation awards. In concluding, the task force observed that for the most part the recommendations did not require expensive bureaucratic modifications but changes in people’s attitudes, customs and habits. It noted that where similar changes have been implemented elsewhere the victim was not the only beneficiary: criminal justice agencies found increased efficiency, cost savings and improved trust and co-operation from the victim and the public.

The recommendations are partly a response to the postwar disappearance of the old support network once based on

family, friends and the community. The plight of victims of crime became particularly glaring in recent years with the dramatic rise in sexual assaults and wife batterings. The victims’ movement began to take hold in the United States in the mid-1970s; its founders joined forces in 1976 with the formation of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. The powerful NOVA lobby forced changes on federal and state ad-

ministrations and helped bring about the creation of the presidential task force. Reported its chairman, Lois Herrington, in February, 1982: “Something insidious has happened in America: crime has made victims of us all. Awareness of its danger affects the way we think, where we live, where we go, what we buy, how we raise our children and the quality of our lives as we age. The spectre of violent crime and the knowledge that, without warning, any person can be attacked or crippled, robbed or killed lurks at the fringes of consciousness.”

In Canada, the movement was longer in getting established. People across the country formed such self-help groups as Neighborhood Watch, Block Parents and Range Patrol. The move north by the vigilante-style Guardian Angels, the young crime fighters in berets, has been more controversial. Chapters of the New York-based organization are operating in Windsor, Ont., Toronto and Montreal, where their downtown street patrols have met a generally cool reception. The Angels are now recruiting in Vancouver, and Police Insp. Noel Larkin doubts they will be useful. “They make a lot of claims about crimes they can prevent, like rape, that in fact they cannot do anything about,” said Larkin. “Most rapes are committed in apartments, in homes and out in the sticks.” In British Columbia, another organization, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, has stirred up the courts by monitoring impaired-driving trials. Says Donald Sullivan, founder of an Ontario lobbying organization called Victims of Violence: “We are not a lynch mob. We are not trying to take rights away from criminals. We are just trying to help victims.”

Now, governments are getting into the act. Says Ontario’s secretary for justice, Gordon Walker: “Victim justice is a theology, a philosophy that should permeate the justice system. In my world, victims are more important than the people who perpetrate the crimes.” In tandem with the federal-provincial task force, federal Solicitor General Robert Kaplan received cabinet approval in 1980 to undertake several victim assistance demonstration projects and programs across the country. Between 1981 and 1984, the department will have spent almost $2.9 million on research, education and victim services, ranging from victim/witness assistance courses in Saint John and Campbellton, N.B., to police volunteer programs in Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton.

At the same time, there are many new programs aimed at crime prevention. In Montreal last week a 24-year-old unemployed loner, Michel Dery, led Montreal police to the place where the body of a murdered six-yearold, Melanie Decamps, was tied to a tree. The next day citizens inundated the city’s $1.5-million crime-prevention program, Operation Tandem, with more than 200 requests for information on dealing with suspicious characters. Said Tandem Director Sidney Stevens: “It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy to wake people up, but at least we were ready with the information. We are teaching people to be the eyes and ears of the police department.”

Still, although there is general recognition of the needs of victims, there remains some resistance to reform, particularly if it reduces an offender’s rights. Toronto lawyer Ian Scott, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, believes that victims’ rights should not be part of the justice system at all. Said Scott: “I do not see it as a criminal justice problem so much as a substantial social problem, similar to

the sick, disabled or needy in our society.”

Generally, however, there is more concern about the costs of changing the system to aid victims of crime than there is about the basic philosophy. Notes task force member Donald Irwin, a member of the Alberta solicitor general’s department: “The cost in a restraint economy is something we have to consider.” But many of the recommendations require very little money, and MacGuigan plans to press ahead with proposed changes to the Criminal Code.

In the crucial area of costs, MacGuigan is receptive to the idea of adding a surtax to the fines of convicted criminals to defray the cost of revised compensation programs, areas in which there is a need for more funds. As a department of justice working paper concluded last March, “Victim compensation is an idea that promises more than it has so far been able to deliver.” Critics argue that a surtax would penalize offenders in victimless crimes and possibly violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But proponents point to a surtax system in California which is expected to produce more than ^ $23 million during the I 1982-1983 fiscal year, » almost $3 million more than the total cost of the state’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning and the victim compensation program.

Still, as task force Chairman Sinclair stressed in a speech to the police chiefs in Calgary, much of the work can be done by volunteers working with existing agencies. Above all, Sinclair told the law enforcers, a fundamental change in attitude would go a long way toward alleviating the suffering and trauma experienced by victims of crime. “Victims have concerns, they are entitled to consideration, and the fact that they are being considered and not neglected must be communicated to them,” he said. And with a determination that victims of crime will applaud, Sinclair concluded, “If the will exists to do these

things, they will be done.”_

With Malcolm Gray in Vancouver, David Hayes in Toronto, Anne Beime in Montreal and Michael Clugston in Halifax.

Malcolm Gray

David Hayes

Anne Beirne

Michael Clugston