Monday, October 12, 2009

A loophole for the loot: CICB says officers welcome

A recent Toronto Star investigation into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) has revealed that since 2005, the Board has paid out an estimated $1.5 million in compensation to Ontario police officers who were injured while on duty.

Many families of victims are shocked at this finding, including Joe Wamback, whose son was brutally beaten by a gang of teens when he was 15. As a result of the beating, his son was on life support for two weeks and spent 7 months in the hospital. The Wambacks faced numerous delays in getting funds from the CICB for wheelchair and ambulance costs.

Professionals in the community are also appalled that police officers are able to claim compensation under the CICB. Dr. Leslie Balmer, a Peel Region psychologist who counsels families of murder victims, says that she thought the fund was “for victims of crime, not police officers ... doing their job." Similar sentiment is expressed by Osgoode Hall law professor, Alan Young, who told the Star that he is "somewhat shocked by the audacity that police forces feel they can tap into money that (is not) intended to assist them. It seems like this is double-dipping going on." Young further stated that, "you're actually making the pie smaller for deserving victims who have been complaining for a decade that the board is not responsive to their needs."

The Board was created under the Compensation for Victims Crime Act (R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER C.24.)

The Act defines “victim” as, “a person injured or killed in the circumstances set out in section 5.” Section 5 reads:

Injuries compensable
5. Where any person is injured or killed by any act or omission in Ontario of any other person occurring in or resulting from,
(a) the commission of a crime of violence constituting an offence against the Criminal Code (Canada), including poisoning, arson, criminal negligence and an offence under section 86 of that Act but not including an offence involving the use or operation of a motor vehicle other than assault by means of a motor vehicle;
(b) lawfully arresting or attempting to arrest an offender or suspected offender for an offence against a person other than the applicant or his or her dependant or against such person’s property, or assisting a peace officer in executing his or her law enforcement duties; or
(c) preventing or attempting to prevent the commission of an offence or suspected offence against a person other than the applicant or his or her dependant or against such person’s property, the Board, on application therefor, may make an order that it, in its discretion exercised in accordance with this Act, considers proper for the payment of compensation to,
(d) the victim;
(e) a person who is responsible for the support of the victim;
(f) where the death of the victim has resulted, the victim’s dependants or any of them or the person who was responsible for the support of the victim immediately before his or her death or who has, on behalf of the victim or his or her estate and not being required by law to do so, incurred an expense referred to in clause 7(1)(a) or (e) arising from the act or omission. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.24, s. 5.

Given the language of Section 5(c), it does not preclude police officers from filing claims with the CICB. But what does the rest of the public think about that? Should police officers and prison guards who already have strong benefits as unionized employees be allowed to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board? If the answer is no, then we must ask why this is happening. Have law enforcement agencies and departments been mismanaging their own funds meant for compensating police officers who are injured on duty? If the answer is yes, how can the Board ensure and show to the public that police applicants will not receive special or priority treatment over non-police applicants?

The Board’s website states that, “The role of the Board is to award financial compensation to victims of violent crimes committed in the Province of Ontario.” Injured police officers do need to go back to work and protect the public in a timely fashion, but are they really “victims”?
If reforms are not made to the current law and law enforcement officials continue to make successful claims with the Board, it is likely that the Board and police would both face serious harm to their reputation. As well, the public’s confidence in their elected members of government may further wane.

Posted by Agnes Tong (Law II)

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