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Victims Shouldn't Bear the Brunt of Crimes

12/12/2013 05:38 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST

In his response to an article in which I am quoted about the victims' surcharge, Peter MacKay's unfounded -- if not preposterous -- assertion in his letter to the editor that I would rather see money in the hands of criminals than victims ignores the merits of the debate, let alone what I actually said.

There is no dispute that offenders who can pay the surcharge ought to pay; rather, the issue is whether it is reasonable or productive to impose a fine on people who cannot afford to pay it, and possibly to imprison them for their failure to do so.

Peter MacKay and I would agree that victims bear the brunt of crime costs in Canada. I assume we would both agree that victims services ought to be well-funded and the provision of these services ought to be ensured in a consistent and robust manner across the country.

If this is his position -- and that of the Government -- can he explain why victims' services aren't mentioned anywhere in the 2013 budget speech? Or why the latest omnibus budget bill -- for all its disparate and disconnected elements -- makes no reference to victims whatsoever?

As I affirmed repeatedly during debate on the so-called Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, if the issue is that judges are granting too many waivers of the surcharge without providing reasons, than the proper remedy is to ensure that judges give appropriate reasons in writing for such waivers.

The Minister cites one study from one province where there was a high waiver rate with "no documentation to establish an inability to pay." That doesn't mean the individuals who received waivers were not entitled to them, only that documentation was lacking.

It also does not account for what may be perfectly reasonable granting of the waiver in other provinces. This is what I mean by evidence-based policy making -- where is the evidence that this specific change addresses the actual issue, and in the best possible way? Does this change inure both to the protection of the victim and the responsibility of the offender?

Where MacKay's disconnect becomes more evident is in his closing, "If we need to defend the constitutionality of this law to stand up for victims, we certainly will." With fines at $100 and $200 each, how does it make any sense to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on defending the constitutionality of the fine in cases of impoverished offenders? Rather, those funds that would be spent on litigation ought to go straight into the hands of victims to provide support and assistance. The same goes for the money it costs to put people in jail solely for their inability to pay.

The ugly canard that somehow Liberals care about criminals more than victims belies the truth -- indeed, it was our party in 2000 that set a fixed amount for the victims' surcharge. The government has at its sole discretion the ability to directly fund victims' services and provide transfers to the provinces in this regard. Why it chose not to do so in its most recent budget bill is perhaps something the Minister ought to explain -- to victims of crime and all Canadians.

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