Federal Victims Strategy Evaluation, Final Report

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1. Introduction

The objective of the Federal Victims Strategy (FVS) is to improve the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. Within the Department of Justice Canada, FVS activities are administered by the Policy Centre for Victim Issues (PCVI).

The PCVI is mandated to:

  • develop and coordinate all federal policy and legislation relating to victims of crime;
  • provide a "victims lens" for all criminal law reform and criminal justice policy development for which the Department of Justice Canada is responsible;
  • conduct research;
  • develop public legal education and information (PLEI) material;
  • provide a centre of expertise on victim issues;
  • promote mutually agreed upon federal-provincial-territorial initiatives;
  • lead and support the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Working Group on Victims of Crime;
  • build the capacity of northern service providers; and
  • administer the Victims Fund.

2. Purpose of the Summative Evaluation

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the continued relevance and performance (i.e. effectiveness, economy and efficiency) of the PCVI's key initiatives and activities under the Strategy from 2005-06 to 2009-10, with particular attention to the Victims Fund.

3. Methodology

The methodology used to evaluate the FVS included the following:

  • A detailed document review and a review of relevant literature.
  • Six sub-studies, including:
    1. Case Studies Report (2009): Use of the Victims Fund to Support Legislative Amendments to Facilitate the Testimony of Vulnerable Witnesses;
    2. Survey of Victims that received funding to attend Parole Board of Canada (PBC) hearings (data from 2006-07 to 2009-10);
    3. Survey of Support Persons for Victims that received funding to attend PBC hearings (2007-2010);
    4. Survey of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week (data from 2007, 2008, 2009);
    5. Survey of 2009 Northern Conference; and
    6. Crown Witness Coordinator Program Sub-study (2010).
  • Interviews with 46 key informants including PCVI staff, members of the FPT Working Group on Victims of Crime, members of the Victims of Crime Advisory Committee and external federal stakeholders.
  • File review of 57 Victims Fund funded projects.
  • Case studies of 11 Victims Fund projects which included 18 interviews and an in-depth review of project documents, websites and other products.

4. Summary of Major Findings and Conclusions

The major findings and conclusions arising from the evaluation are as follows:

4.1 Relevance

There is a strong continuing need for the Federal Victims Strategy and it is highly relevant to the Government of Canada's priorities.

The results of the 2009 General Social Survey revealed that about 7.4 million Canadians, or just over one-quarter of the population aged 15 years and older, reported being a victim of a criminal incident in the preceding 12 months. This proportion was essentially unchanged from that reported in 2004.

All stakeholders who participated in this evaluation perceived a strong need for the Strategy in order to give victims a voice in the criminal justice system and in the development of new legislation as well as to raise awareness about victim issues, improve access to services, and support the provinces and territories in providing services for victims of crime. Furthermore, the Strategy is needed to meet the federal government's responsibility to victims in Northern and Aboriginal communities.

The relevance of the Strategy and its alignment with government priorities have been demonstrated through recent Throne Speeches (2010 and 2007), other public statements by Ministers, and federal budgets (2010 and 2006) as well as in the establishment of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime in 2007. The Department of Justice's Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) 2010-11 also explains that one of the Department's key activities is to "continue implementation of the Federal Strategy for Victims of Crime and the Victims Fund."

There is a legitimate and necessary role for the federal government in addressing issues related to victims of crime.

Key informants indicated that the federal government is uniquely positioned to raise awareness about victim issues, provide needed financial support to the provinces and territories, and develop information and educational materials on a national scale. The federal government's continuing support of these activities gives further credibility and motivation to provincial, territorial and local efforts related to victim issues. In addition, the federal government is directly responsible for some categories of victims such as Canadians victimized abroad, victims of federally sentenced offenders and victims in the territories.

4.2 Performance

Effectiveness

Although the Federal Victims Strategy is improving the experience of victims in the criminal justice system, funding lapses are impeding the full potential of the Victims Fund.

All of the Department's key activities and initiatives under the Strategy (i.e. Victims Fund, FPT Working Group on Victims of Crime, Criminal Law Reform and Policy Development, PLEI, Capacity Building in the North) have contributed to improving the experience of victims in the criminal justice system, most notably in areas where victims are directly benefiting from interventions such as the provision of financial assistance through the Victims Fund and funding for testimonial aids.

Surveys of victims and their support persons indicated that the financial assistance has helped alleviate the financial burden associated with attending PBC hearings, which has consequently increased their access to and participation in the criminal justice system. Similarly, funding for testimonial aids has increased victims' access to a greater number of higher quality testimonial aids, which have helped reduce the stress of testifying, the stress and anxiety of parents and supporters during the course of the proceedings, and have given child witnesses and their supporters choices and a sense of empowerment in the criminal justice process.

Despite its relative effectiveness in improving the experience of victims of crime and the fact that Victims Fund spending has increased year over year from $2,666,282 in 2007-08 to $4,910,472 in 2009-10, there have been some notable lapses in funding under the Provincial/Territorial Component of the Fund, which are partly due to the fact that the Northern Victims of Crime Emergency Fund, sentencing hearing and underserved victims of crime funds are relatively new initiatives that were implemented in 2007 and need some time to be established. However, since these funding lapses have been significant, they are impeding the full potential of the Fund. Provincial/territorial key informants identified several reasons for the funding lapses under this component including, but not limited to, the lack of long-term funding and certainty that the Strategy will continue, a burdensome application process, lack of internal capacity within the provinces/territories to develop and administer the Funds (e.g. Northern Victims of Crime Emergency Fund), and restrictive funding guidelines.

There are opportunities to further expand the impact of the Strategy to more victims of crime.

A comparison of program statistics with estimates of the number of eligible victims suggests that there is an underutilization of certain initiatives under the Financial Assistance Component of the Victims Fund (e.g. Canadians Victimized Abroad, Emergency Financial Assistance). Some key informants identified a lack of awareness among eligible crime victims regarding the available funding as a barrier to the uptake of these funds, indicating that there are still some opportunities for improvement in raising awareness among the public, criminal justice professionals and service providers who are in direct contact with victims of crime about available funds.

Economy

The PCVI's lean administrative structure contributes to the economy of the Federal Victims Strategy.

The PCVI's total budget more than doubled in 2007 (from $5 million to $12.5 million, including the budget for the Victims Fund which increased from $2 million in 2006-07 to $8.5 million in 2007-08). However, the PCVI's staff complement did not increase commensurate with the additional financial resources for the Strategy, particularly for the administration of the Victims Fund. Since the 2007 enhancement, the only addition to the PCVI workforce was two full-time staff. However, the workload within the PCVI has increased substantially as requests for funding have generally risen steadily each year under all three components of the Victims Fund. This has caused an imbalance between the increased expectations for the Strategy and the PCVI's delivery capacity.

Efficiency

The relatively lean administrative structure of the PCVI is contributing to some inefficiencies. The data from the file review, case studies, and feedback surveys indicate that the PCVI's outputs (e.g. types of projects funded, National Victims of Crime Awareness Week symposiums, Northern Conference) are consistent with the objectives of the Strategy and are appropriate in that they are contributing to the achievement of intended outcomes. However, some PCVI staff noted backlogs and the slow flow of funding as areas for improvement, which was echoed by a relatively small number of victims of crime who reported some dissatisfaction with the time it took to receive financial assistance to attend a PBC hearing.

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