Article by: Jonathan Wamback
Reprinted with Permission of, York University, Excaliber Newspaper – A violent assault left York student Jonathan Wamback in a coma for three months, paralyzed for six and wheelchair-bound for another six. Now he questions the treatment of other crime victims in Canada
In the summer of 1999, I had a near brush with death as a result of a violent assault. This event left me comatose for three months, paralyzed for a good six months and wheelchair-bound for another six months. Through an examination of my own life and of the very brutal crime committed against me, I have forgiven my attackers. This is not a task that many victims of violent crime can accomplish because, in most cases, they have had something taken away from them and the reminders will always be present.
My family was lucky since I survived the assault against my life, and I was given the chance to forgive. For most people, when family members or loved ones are hurt or violently murdered, they cannot forgive and move on.
“To have a family member taken from you through an act of violence is like having a part of your soul removed,” said Joe Wamback, my father and a leading victim advocate in Canada. He started a charitable organization, The Canadian Crime Victim Foundation, some years after my assault.
Intentional human trauma, as a general rule, will be more difficult to recover from than unintentional human trauma or natural trauma. Also, non-violent crimes are easier to forgive. What makes it worse for people in this state of extreme frailty, like crime victims, are when their government neglects, mistreats and re-victimizes them. They are placed on a footing which is less than that of the person who has hurt them, their offender or victimizer.
For many, when a crime is committed, they will immediately think that the victims are the immediate and only party affected by crime, and that they will be taken care of and will have certain rights, help, compassion and assistance. These victims, and here I speak of victims of extreme violence in particular, are in fact one of society’s most fragile and vulnerable citizens. It only makes perfect sense to care for them as citizens of the same country, as people and as compassionate, feeling, emotional human beings. It does make sense, doesn’t it?
In 2005, out of every 100,000 people, there were 8,512 children, men and women affected by violent crime in Canada. In Canada the total is calculated at 3,064,320 people per year. This is a ridiculous amount of people, and it makes up almost 10 per cent of our population.
But the truth is that it makes perfect sense. It was why a section of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victim of Crime and Abuse of Power was formed on Nov. 29, 1985 devoted entirely to crime victims, which grants them very specific rights.
So, now that we have established the fact that it makes sense to the UN and to most Canadians, the question that needs to be addressed is why Canada doesn’t comply with the declaration that it signed in 1985? Why does it not make sense to our past and current governments, and why do Canadian judges, lawyers and courts refuse and neglect their most fragile population of those rights granted to them by the UN?
Traditionally, the functioning justice system was made up of two parties – the offender and the victim. Victims would initiate and control prosecution against their offenders. As time passed, however, the public’s interests replaced the victims’ rights and concerns. In our justice system, the victims were replaced by the state – a crime is not committed against the victims, but instead, a crime is committed against the state. This situation uses the victims as no more than pieces of evidence in the trial process – as a tool of the state.
In the Canadian Charter, there are many rights for the accused, while the victims have no rights whatsoever. This may sound completely ridiculous since it is without question that it is the victims who will need assistance in the aftermath of extreme violence. So what happened?
It is quite simple. Before the Charter was introduced in 1985, victims had a greater level of equality with their victimizers. There was no need for advocates and lobby groups for victims. Instead, what existed were organizations such as The Elizabeth Fry and John Howard societies since criminals did not have as many rights. As a result of this situation, when the justice section of the Canadian Charter was being discussed in Parliament, criminal defence advocacy was powerful and victim advocacy was simply absent – criminal lawyers, judges and offender-based organizations dominated the floor. Victims’ rights were simply not an issue before the Charter.
Because of this, is the Canadian Charter a bad thing? Of course not. Some incredible things came from it; victims just happened to be excluded in the process because of a lack of a need for presence. To understand victims’ rights, it is also necessary to understand that there is absolutely no desire to ask for more rights than those accused of a crime. A sense of equality would be nice, which has been deteriorating over the last few decades.
It is clear that victims of extreme violence are in need of respect, compensation, assistance and fair treatment. A section in the UN Convention on Justice grants them most of these rights, including assistance, compensation, access to justice, fair treatment and restitution.
But Canada does not comply with most if not all of these rights that are suggested to be granted to victims by the United Nations. The section on assistance (points 14, 15, 16 and 17) grants victims many rights, which are neglected in Canada. Point 14 grants victims psychological, medical, physical, social and material assistance by governmental, community-based and indigenous means. Point 15 grants victims the right to be informed of health and social assistance and to be readily afforded access to them. Point 16 suggests that police, justice, health, social service and other personnel concerned should receive training to understand the needs of victims, and guidelines to ensure proper and prompt aid. Point 17 states that in providing services and assistance to victims, attention should be given to those who have special needs because of the nature of the harm inflicted. This is just a small section taken as an example from the UN declaration. Not one of these rights is adhered to in Ontario.
On Feb. 27, 2007, a report released by the Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin stated that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) had been treating victims of crime like “rats in a maze” rather than helping them. It goes without saying that the sole purpose of the CICB was to support those affected by crime, according to the points offered up in the UN declaration. Marin further stated that the CICB was in fact not helping at all and actually infringing the law with regards to basic rights granted to victims through the United Nations. He accused Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant of “directing the board not to issue payments in order to save money and stay under budget.”
Ontario’s opposition parties, headed by John Tory, have called for Bryant’s immediate resignation. Examples like these make up the world of the crime victims, in their torment and repeated victimization by the people who they trust, the very people that have been elected to help them – the government.
Canada places last in a list of 29 countries when it comes to providing common assistance to its crime victims. The victims of crime are not just society’s most fragile citizen; they are also its most neglected and mistreated.
Do not forget about us, that we have bled and suffered and been shamed, all very wrongfully, for this cause.