Guest Blog by: Kathryn Adams
While it can initially seem like a victory for a crime victim to be awarded a Restitution Order by a Canadian Court , in reality it usually is not. Collecting on such orders is frustratingly elusive due to the many protections that offenders enjoy, impeding the victims who are seeking outstanding restitution through civil court.
The woman who was convicted of embezzling from my small business was sentenced to house arrest. As part of her house arrest and parole requirements, she was ordered to make restitution payments, which she did while under court supervision because she feared actual jail. Avoiding incarceration can be a powerfully persuasive motivator.
Alas, collecting on the remainder of the order is causing significant difficulty because the deck is stacked in favour of the offender. The offender in my case feels fully entitled to keep the remaining funds that she was convicted of stealing, which is a huge sum. Now that the period of house arrest and parole supervision has come to an end, there is no incentive for the offender to repay the balance of the order against her.
The offender has boldly declared to her parole officer that she “declines to pay” any further restitution (even though she is quite able to do so) once she is free of legal supervision. An offender who knows how toothless the laws are for civil enforcement of restitution orders can display a lot of hubris without fear of repercussion.
The offender has no obligation to disclose to me (or to her parole officer) the name of her legal representative, which now makes it difficult for me to serve legal notices. Moreover, the parole officer was legally unable to disclose to me the name of the offender’s employer or home address because of Canadian privacy laws. Steps to enforce a restitution order require that the offender be served with a request to pay.
A victim cannot serve notices to an offender who is legally permitted to hide behind privacy laws. Restitution orders are thus rendered largely useless to a victim and issuing them becomes little more than a formality.
A web search for information turns up little else than cautions about how difficult the process is to gain enforcement of a restitution judgement. It leaves the victims to bear an egregious portion of the cost of enforcing reparations in addition to the cost of the crime losses they have already suffered.
While “remedies” to enforce collection exist, in practical application they do not. In theory, one can seize bank accounts of offenders but that requires knowing the offender’s bank account numbers. The banks would violate Canada ‘s privacy laws if they disclosed such information without the account-holder’s consent. No offender is going to permit such a disclosure.
Even if a bank account number was discovered, the offender can simply and immediately switch banks and/or account numbers, forcing the victim back to square one.
Saskatchewan has a very successful Civil Enforcement Program that has unequivocally proven that such a program works. Victims who are assisted in collecting restitution are less of a drain on other social systems. Holding offenders accountable to pay restitution even beyond their incarceration is a significant deterrent to crime, and certainly a deterrent to recidivism.
The implementation of such a program is necessary ASAP in all provinces, as both a further disincentive to offenders who would commit fraud and, concomitantly, a welcome means for victims to collect far more successfully on their restitution judgments.
Even after women have separated from an abusive partner, the violence still costs Canadians an estimated $6.9 billion a year, according to research at the University of British Columbia.
Led by UBC Nursing Prof. Colleen Varcoe, the study – published in a recent issue of Canadian Public Policy – is the first in Canada to comprehensively identify the spectrum of economic costs for services used by women who leave a violent partner.
Overall, the annual bill for violence rings in at a total of $13,162 per woman across health and non-health sectors, and within public and private domains. This estimate represents the use of health, legal and social services.
“What our findings make clear is that ‘leaving’ is not a panacea,” says Varcoe, stressing that leaving decreases, but does not end the cost of violence to the system.
“In pointing out the economics of violence,” adds Varcoe, “we are also showing the human costs which are incalculable. As a society, we must do a better job of prevention, early detection and support for women at risk to violence.”
The study analyzed categories of cost to publicly funded programs and services that include hospitalization, X-rays, visits to the doctor, legal aid, children protection worker, unemployment insurance and social assistance. The study also calculated private, third-party costs such as psychologist, dentist, counseling and food bank use.
“We found that food banks account for a staggering 80 per cent of the non-health, private, third-party costs, which in this case are borne by charitable organizations,” says Varcoe.
Also dramatic, says Varcoe, are the number of doctors and emergency room (ER) visits. Analyzing data for ER visits, the researchers estimate that women who have left violent partners went to emergency units 24 times per month (at $180 per visit) as compared to the Canadian female norm for the same age group of one ER visit per month. Similarly, the data shows 1.9 physician visits (at $47 per visit) per month compared to the norm of 0.37 physician visits per month.
The costs were identified by collecting service use and other data from 309 women who had left an abusive male partner within the previous three years. From B.C., Ontario and New Brunswick, the women were interviewed every year for five years.
To determine how much of the costs were due to violence, the researchers compared the women’s use of services to that by women of a similar age in the general population. To arrive at the number of women in Canada impacted by intimate partner violence, the study used raw Statistics Canada data. The 2006 Census confirmed there were 10.3 million women in Canada aged 19-65. About one in ten – 1.3 million women – were legally separated or divorced, and not living with a partner.
The researchers then cross-referenced these statistics against findings from the 1993 “Violence Against Women Survey” (VAWS), the largest population-based survey focused on violence in Canada. The VAWS data show that 50.7 per cent of women reported physical assault from a former partner, 22.8 per cent in the three years preceding interview. The team then applied these percentages to 1.3 million women.
This allowed the investigators to make conservative estimates of $6.9 billion if including women have left abusive partners in Canada, and $3.1 billion if only including women who experienced violence in the past three years.
Varcoe says the study signals an urgent need for better coordination of responses that integrate health, social services, justice, education, and corporate sectors, and services oriented long beyond the immediate crisis of “leaving.”