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    Irvin Waller calls for governments to meet international standards of victim assistance and invest in preventing victimization.


Will the next Canadian government get smarter about making a safe Canada safer?

In Canada, crimes of violence and against property still cause the equivalent of $83 billion in harm to victims – equivalent to 5% of GDP. We have the evidence based knowledge to cut that harm by 50% within 5-10 years by tackling the social causes of violence and provide real support and rights to crime victims.

This shift to victim centred and evidence based policy requires the next Canadian government to invest in the following three actions costing $1.5 billion a year which is less than 1/10 of 1% of GDP. Reducing the number of victims significantly will also reduce the demand for police and jails and so enable reduction over time in taxes spent on reaction by $5 billion.

Will the next Canadian government:

    1. establish a national crime reduction and victim assistance board and invest $500 million a year to work with provinces and cities to reduce significantly interpersonal violence and homicide in Canada by promoting the use of proven prevention solutions?

    2. invest $500 million to reduce violence against women and children, implement a national action plan on violence against women, and launch an annual Statistics Canada survey on intimate partner and sexual violence to measure the success of policies?

    3. invest $500 million to work with the Provinces to develop and implement national programs that meet international standards for assistance, reparation and rights for victims of crime and commit to annual Statistics Canada victimization surveys to measure the gap between the needs and services for victims of crime?

    In September 2015, global leaders will agree to transform our world by investing in a hundred or so actions to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Among those are targets to reduce significantly violence and homicide, eliminate violence against women and children, and provide access to justice for all. Canada can become a beacon for achieving the violence prevention targets by taking the action here domestically.

    To do this, Canada must use evidence, compassion and smart investment to apply the extensive knowledge on what prevents violence (not ideology mistakenly thought to be popular), implement more of its pioneering innovations and those that are relevant from abroad, and bring its violence prevention and victim assistance actions up to best international standards, while saving billions in taxes over just a few years.

    Some Facts

    Canada remains a relatively safe country. Its homicide rate is less than 2 per 100,000 and is marginally higher than most advanced nations, such as England or Germany or Sweden, and much lower than the USA. Its victimization rate as measured independently of police in surveys by Statistics Canada for both property and violence offences has remained steady over the last 20 years. The police are recording fewer crimes and the police recorded crime rate has dropped back to that of the 1960´s for property crime and that of the 1970´s for violent crime. These rates were unacceptable at that time and therefore show the failure of modern science to be used to reduce crime in the same way that science has advanced so many other areas of human life such as health.

    Canada has a moderate number of police officers per capita at about 200 per 100,000, which is in a a lower range for many advanced nations similar to Sweden and The Netherlands and below the 230 for the USA. The Canadian rate is close to the same level it has been for nearly forty years. However, the costs of policing have escalated since 2000 with total expenditures doubling to $13.5 billion, creating pressure on budgets, particularly at the municipal level which pays for about 60% of policing costs. Further the evidence shows that it is not the number of police officers but the way police officers are used, particularly in partnership with social agencies that is the key to violence reduction. For property crime, the same is true though the design of the built environment to reduce opportunity for theft such as for cars and electronic devices also becomes important.

    Canada has a moderate rate of adult prisoners per capita at 106 per 100,000. This rate is within a range for most advanced nations, though 30% or more higher than Germany (78), The Netherlands (75) or Scandinavian countries such as Denmark (61). The USA has an incarceration rate of approximately 700 per 100,000, more than six times ours. If Canada used incarceration at the same rate as Germany, it would save over $1 billion a year. In Canada in the last twenty years, the number of prisoners in local jails awaiting trial has grown. Today more than 50% of these prisoners – 11,000 persons – are being held awaiting trial – that is not yet convicted. Many of these prisoners are poor, aboriginal or mentally ill young men/women held in overcrowded conditions.

    Pre-crime prevention that targets social risk factors reduces offending significantly – often by 50% or more. So crime is reduced by targeting social programs in disadvantaged areas to reduce problems such as lack of role models, inappropriate parenting or dropping out of school. For each dollar invested in many of these well tested programs saves $7 or better. Many Canadian cities have started to apply the prevention evidence in partnership with schools, youth services, police and others, but so far with little financial support from the federal or provincial governments.

    Provinces are fostering strategies focused on reducing crime and enhancing community safety through partnerships. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are all experimenting with evidence based and cost effective prevention that is delivered through schools, housing, health and police. From 2006 to 2012, Alberta became the leading jurisdiction in the world for its actions to stop violence while investing $1 billion. The federal government has invested about $60 million a year – about 1% of total expenditures federally on reacting to crime – in testing various proven prevention strategies.

    Canada has been much slower than other advanced nations in establishing services and rights for victims of crime. The European Union has standards for all 28 countries and resources to meet those standards. Many advanced nations like England and Wales and Japan have universal services at a level better than Canada and national leadership and Commissioners for victims. Canadian provinces have some laws to provide services and compensation but even the compensation program in one major province was heavily criticised as adding insult to injury. The federal government has provided $15 million a year to promote a limited number of victim assistance projects, particularly for children and is adding an amount of a similar order to help provinces with implementation of a complaint mechanism for the new federal Bill of Rights for Victims. These are not even 1% of federal spending on criminal justice.

    More violence prevention, not more police and prisons

    1. Will your government establish a national crime reduction and victim assistance board and invest $500 million a year to work with Provinces and cities to reduce interpersonal violence and homicide significantly in Canada by promoting the use of proven prevention solutions?

    Opinion polls show many more Canadians prefer to control crime through investments in education and jobs rather than more police, lawyers and jails. The U.S. Attorney General and the World Health Organization have both reviewed the research accumulated over the last Fifty years on what prevents violence. They confirm that we have the knowledge that solutions focusing on issues such as parenting, youth mentoring, life skills and SNAP (a program developed in Ontario) in disadvantaged neighborhoods are effective in reducing violence and cost effective compared to policing and prisons. The initiative to cope with escalating police expenditures -economics of policing and community safety – has defined the shared way forward to include reducing the demand for police services. The Canadian Council of Academies has stressed that the future of police is as just one component in delivering community safety.

    A Crime Reduction and Victim Assistance Act could establish a National Crime Reduction and Victim Assistance Board to spearhead the shift from our current over-reliance and spending on police, lawyers and jails to a modern and just agenda focused on effective violence reduction and victim assistance. The Board would collaborate with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal agencies and non-governmental groups. It would make Canada a beacon for effective and compassionate strategies to cope with violence. It would support research and development in sectors such as schools, health and social services with targeted funding to establish standards, research and development, training and data. It should establish a national consensus to set and evaluate targets for 2025.

    A national priority for eliminating violence against women and children?

    2. invest $500 million to reduce violence against women and children, implement a national action plan on violence against women, and launch an annual Statistics Canada survey on intimate partner and sexual violence to measure the success of policies?

    Canada has a blue print for a national plan of action to reduce violence against women and children and improve services for victims. This provides a framework for strengthening systems that prevent and respond to violence against women and establishes national standards and collaboration between all orders of government, civil society, survivors, and service responders. The blue print was developed by the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses in collaboration with over 20 organizations representing sectors involved in issues of violence against women. It provides the basis for the development and implementation of a coherent, coordinated, and well-resourced National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls.

    In Canada, several statistics show the prevalence and costs of violence against women and children, including an estimate of $7.5 billion for the economic impact of spousal violence. Despite the US high rates of homicide, estimates in the US of impact of sexual violence exceed the impact of homicide.

    In the USA in 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention partnered with the National Institute of Justice to undertake the first national survey on intimate partner and sexual violence. This showed the extent to which women, children and elderly people bear the brunt of nonfatal physical, sexual and psychological abuse: Estimates from the World Health Organization suggest that a quarter of all adults have been physically abused as children and one in five women have been sexually abused as a child. One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime. It is likely that an annual survey along these lines in Canada would bring attention to this problem which is too often low visibility and to whether progress is being made in reducing it.

    Such violence contributes to lifelong ill health – particularly for women and children. Many leading causes of early death such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and HIV/AIDS are the result of victims of violence adopting behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug misuse, and unsafe sex in an effort to cope with the psychological impact of violence. Violence also places a heavy strain on health and criminal justice systems, social and welfare services. In May 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted with Canada´s support a historic resolution to promote greater use of the public health sector in reducing intimate partner and sexual Violence, particularly against women and children.

    Ontario is the home of one of the few programs proven to reduce sexual violence. Known as The Fourth R, it was originally tested in a large scale random control trial in schools in Ontario where the evaluators confirmed significant prevention of sexual violence. Since then the program has got international recognition and some Canadian implementation.

    Several Canadian universities have had to face the reality that their students become the victims of sexual violence while attending. In the U.S., the Obama administration established a national task force to get preventive actions put in place. The Green Dot is an effective intervention program that encourages bystanders to intervene to stop potential incidents. A five year evaluation showed a 50% reduction in sexual violence perpetration. This type of program could be cost-effectively placed on every University campus and high school in Canada.

    Taking the needs of victims of violence seriously by advancing Canada to standards of advanced nations

    3. invest $500 million to work with the Provinces to develop and implement national programs that meet international standards for assistance, reparation and rights for victims of crime and commit to annual Statistics Canada victimization surveys to measure the gap between the needs and services for victims of crime?

    Retired Chief Justice of Ontario Roy McMurtry and one of Canada´s great statesmen was tasked to remedy the situation called adding insult to injury. His pragmatic recommendations are as relevant in Ontario as across Canada. They called on police to inform victims of the services available to them and measure whether these services actually met their needs. Federally the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has made specific recommendations on how the recent Federal Bill of Rights for Victims could be made meaningful to victims. So far only $20 million or so a year additionally has been provided and few of the Ombudsman´s recommendations implemented. Much more is needed.

    In 1985, the governments of the world – including Canada – resolved at the UN General Assembly to take action to both prevent violence and implement the UN Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. In 2003, with strong support from Canada, the UN ECOSOC adopted the Guidelines on Justice Matters Relating to Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime. Specific ways to implement Rights for Victims: Rebalancing Justice include numerous promising practices that Canada could adapt from other advanced nations and ways to implement a model law for victims, including creating a national board as proposed in the first recommendation.

    Canada must champion national standards for services and rights for all crime victims that are at least as good as other advanced nations. In Europe, The European Union has set standards for all 28 countries for funding expanded services to victims, greater use of restitution and restorative justice, and significant compensation to victims of violence. They have not only adopted legislation on restitution, but implemented actions to get it ordered and paid to victims. This includes ways to foster implementation and assess progress. These standards and rights include special mention of the needs of children as well as women and vulnerable groups.

    Victims must have standing in criminal courts with access to a lawyer. France more than others provided standing and representation for victims in its criminal courts starting in the 1960´s and as a consequence ensured the payment of restitution by as many as 50% of offenders to victims.

    Victim rights must be enforceable and measurable. In 2004, the US federal Justice for All Act provided seven rights, a remedy (appeal to a higher court with financial aid to pay lawyers to enforce it), and evaluation (by the General Accounting Office). It is not good enough to put laws in the books. They must be accompanied by ways to enforce them.

    The Canadian federal government must step up to the plate with funding. In 2015, the U.S. tripled the funding support to States to implement services and rights for victims. This funding comes predominantly from fines on rich, not poor offenders.

    A rich country like Canada can afford to deal with crime in the most effective and cost effective way which is prevention. It can use compassion, evidence and its own pioneering models to cut crime in half and respect the rights of victims. $1.5 billion is equivalent to only 7% of what all orders of government are spending ¨picking up the pieces¨ through the $22 billion that reactive law enforcement, courts and jails costs us.

    In the last decade, the federal government increased its expenditures on criminal justice in real terms by 23% or $1.3 billion a year while focussing on reducing government expenditures. Municipalities increased expenditures on policing in real terms by 50% or $4 billion.

    Canadians need to live with streets and homes and schools that are safer. Cities have the tools to apply the positive and effective solutions but they need the support of resources – not the lack of resources – from other orders of government. Municipalities receive only 8% of tax revenues compared to 50% for the federal government.

    It is time to rebalance expenditures from enforcement and punishment towards positive and effective ways to stop street violence, eliminate violence against women and children, and provide serious services and rights for victims. $1.5 billion is a significant social investment in the futures of the most disadvantaged Canadians. It may require some reallocation from expenditures that are not effective. It will overlap with general investments in social infrastructure but at least 50% must be targeted to where it will have the greatest impact on the causes of violence.

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