Civil Litigation

Vulnerable will suffer most from CICB's demise

By Staff

The provincial government’s move to scrap the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) will hit some of society’s most vulnerable crime victims, Toronto civil sexual abuse lawyer Anna Matas tells

A schedule to the recently unveiled provincial budget announces the Ontario government's intention to repeal the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act, under which the board was established in 1971.

Once the budget bill receives royal assent, the CICB — which currently awards lump-sum payments of up to $25,000 to victims of crime or the families of those killed in criminal acts — will cease to exist.

“It’s an extremely disappointing decision," says Matas, a lawyer with the Toronto office of Lerners LLP. “The people who went to the CICB did so because there was nowhere else to go for compensation after a devastating, life-changing event. Although the government has indicated there will be some mechanism to replace the CICB, I am concerned survivors will have nowhere effective to go at all.”

Matas says the board has always been an avenue of last resort for victims of crime, including sexual assault, where circumstances make it impractical to sue the perpetrators in civil court. She says very few applicants are awarded the maximum level of compensation at the CICB, and that those cases tend to be so serious that a successful action in civil court on the same facts would likely result in awards of damages five or 10 times larger.

“Clients of mine who received the maximum awards for pain and suffering from the CICB had devastating histories, but they had the misfortune not only to have been abused, but to have been abused by someone from whom there is no hope of recovering compensation,” Matas says.

In addition, she says disbanding the CICB will achieve few savings since prospective applicants will instead turn to provincially funded social services for the cost of therapy, medication, and income loss that board awards were designed to cover.

Apart from the financial compensation available at the CICB, Matas says many of her clients benefited from the opportunity to tell their story.

“Applicants to the CICB still had to prove their case on a balance of probabilities, as you would in civil court, but the chance to be heard and believed by an impartial adjudicator is an enormously important opportunity for survivors that stands separately from any money awarded,” she says.

Matas says the CICB has come under periodic attack over the years, but the drastic action in the budget still disappointed her.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Caroline Mulroney told CBC News that the government is acting because of the lengthy waits that crime victims are enduring for compensation from the board and that a new administrative process would solve the problem.

However, Matas says she’s not convinced the new process will be up to scratch, considering that victims with cases still pending before the board have been informed their pain and suffering compensation will be capped at $5,000.

“Trying to quantify a survivor's suffering and assign a number for financial compensation has always been a challenging process," she says. "Money will always be a poor substitute for a life not destroyed by PTSD or other fallout from a terrible event.

“There is no amount of money that can fix that, which is something the law has always struggled with, but when you’re getting down to $5,000, that’s an amount which is frankly insulting.”

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