Category:meeting victims needs

Shameful that sexual assault survivors must wait for counselling

January 30, 2017 – Our hearts break for the family of Kassidi Coyle, who died by suicide four months after a man was charged with sexually assaulting her. Since her death, her mother Judi Coyle has been advocating for more resources to help sexual assault survivors, noting that Kassidi was put on a waiting list for counselling at her local rape crisis centre and took her life two weeks before her first appointment.

Waiting lists for counselling are a continuing problem for sexual assault support centres across Ontario, says Lenore Lukasik-Foss, the chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.

At the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, counsellor and activist Deb Singh said they have one of the shorter waiting lists for free, continuing counselling at five months. “We need more counsellors and we need more funding to pay those counsellors who have a critical understanding of sexual violence, of intimate partner violence,” Singh said. “There are people out there who want to do these jobs . . . and we are not wanting for the amount survivors out there. We know the rates at which women in Canada are experiencing sexual violence.”

Kassidi was scheduled to have an appointment at Athena’s Sexual Assault Counselling and Advocacy Centre in Barrie, according to her mother.

Kathy Willis, the executive director of Huronia Transition Homes, which includes Athena’s, said waitlist times fluctuate between one and three months, although it is possible to get crisis appointments and for cases to be fast-tracked. Willis said she could not comment on what happened in Kassidi’s case due to privacy concerns, but says her death is a tragedy that shows the terrible impact sexual violence can have.

“We try a number of different strategies internally for waitlists, but we could absolutely use probably two more full-time counselling positions,” she said. But, she said, the organization is doing its best with the resources they have. “(It) doesn’t mean survivors shouldn’t be contacting sexual assault centres. We would never leave a woman who is struggling with the impacts of sexual assault by herself, without access to service,” she said.

Lukasik-Foss points to an increase of 50 per cent in crisis line calls last year to the Hamilton-based centre where she is the director. “We know the need for support but we are not able to keep up with demand in many of the centres. That is just the reality,” she said. “We are seeing more people reaching out as there is more public education . . . but we need to be able to support them as well.” In particular, she said, there is a need for more long-term therapy options.

Lukasik-Foss said sexual assault support centres provide a number of different resources beyond one-on-one counselling; most offer group sessions, drop-in groups, art-based therapy programs and one-off workshops. They can assist with criminal injury compensation claims and accompany sexual assault victims to hospitals to process a rape kit or to the police to make a report.

24-hour crisis lines remain crucial (with interpretation available), but work is being done to provide text or live chat, she said. She added that crisis lines are also open to parents, friends and partners of sexual assault survivors.

But there are still many barriers to sexual assault survivors accessing services, particularly if they live in a rural community, she said. More also needs to be done to support people going through the criminal court process, beyond the pilot program offering four hours of free legal advice, she says.

“We want to be able to meet the needs of all survivors, young and old, newcomers, indigenous, francophone, LGBT, sex workers,” Lukasik-Foss said

But it can’t just be sexual assault centres that do the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting victims of sexual violence, said Farrah Khan, the sexual violence education and support coordinator at Ryerson University. “How can we have trauma and sexual violence informed mental health services?” she said. “What emergency supports are available?” It’s important to connect people with supports and resources while they are waiting for specialized services, she added, whether it is through sexual assault centres, hospitals, community-based organizations or online. “This is such an epidemic that everyone needs to be trained on this.”

We agree. It is critical that survivors be able to access potentially life-saving supports such as counselling at the time when they need them. How, in a province where there is an Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, are women are still forced to wait months and months for counselling? It is time for the province to step up and fund additional full time counselling positions at all of the sexual assault and rape crisis centres across Ontario to actually ensure more choices and better outcomes for survivors through the justice system.

JUSTICE DENIED FOR THE VICTIMS

In June of 2012, 28-year-old Fouad Nayel left his parent’s home in the suburbs of Ottawa. It was Father’s Day, and he told his cousin he would be back in a couple of hours with Chinese food to celebrate, which was their annual tradition. His family did not realize that this would be the last time they saw their loved one alive.

Following Fouad’s disappearance, a relentless search ensued which left his family, as well as the authorities, tired and frustrated. Nicole, Fouad’s mother, described the experience as a nightmare she didn’t know when would end, and said, “I haven’t slept. I haven’t ate. I haven’t done anything. I’m just a walking body.”

In November of 2012, a passerby contacted the police about human remains they had found in the woods near Calabogie, a town about 100 km west of Ottawa. Soon after, Fouad’s family were informed that their worst nightmare had come true, and that the remains found were identified as Fouad’s.

It did not take long for the authorities to piece together what they believe happened to Fouad, and less than a month later they arrested and charged 33-year-old Adam Picard with first-degree murder. Picard is a former member of the Canadian armed forces, and was accused of shooting Nayel from behind twice, following a drug-related altercation.

During the following years, the case went through a number of impediments that delayed it coming to trial, including the defence changing lawyers four different times. The Crown also faced numerous procedural challenges, including the prosecutors being involved in other murder trials. They were also tasked with unpacking a complex case involving two police services, 30,000 pages of disclosure and 78 witnesses. In August 2015 the defence brought an application to expedite the trial, but was met with resistance by the Crown as they felt that this would mean both of the assigned lawyers would have to be removed from the case.

The family remained patient, hoping for justice for Fouad.  They could not have imagined what was coming concerning their son’s alleged killer. Unfortunately, to their dismay and devastation, on November 15, 2016, Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett issued a stay of proceedings, after a motion made by the defence.  Picard walked out of the courtroom a free man. Justice Parfett placed particular blame on the Crown, citing the lawyers’ unavailability and institutional issues as the main reason for the delays.

Fouad’s parents were appalled with the ruling, and did not understand how the justice system could let them down the way it did. Fouad’s mother Nicole asked, “What kind of message does this send? That you can (allegedly) kill someone and get away with it… What kind of judge would do this? The system isn’t fair.”

The decision by Justice Parfett was issued on the grounds that the 4-year delay in getting to trial violated Mr. Picard’s Section 11(b) Charter rights which guarantee the right to a trial without unreasonable delay. This decision follows the precedent defined by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Jordan from this past July, which set new ceilings on how long an accused must wait for their case to get to trial. The new guidelines state that the maximum delay for serious charges going to provincial court must be 18 months, and 30 months for charges going to superior court (from the time from charges are laid to the actual or expected end of trial).

This was not the first time a first-degree murder charge was stayed in Canada due to unreasonable delays in getting to trial. Lance Matthew Regan, an incarcerated Edmonton man, was charged with first-degree murder in 2011 for the death of fellow inmate Mason Tex Montgrand. In October of 2016, a stay of proceedings was issued, with Justice Stephen Hillier ruling Regan’s constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time being violated.

Another recent example of this is the case of George Kenny. Kenny was charged in 2005 for assault causing bodily harm, as he was involved in the fatal beating of 22-year-old Brian Fudge, at a bar in Ottawa. In September 2016, after a delay of 68 months, the Ontario Court of Appeal threw out his case issuing a stay of proceedings again for a violation of Section 11(b) Charter rights.

Although it is recognized that the accused’s rights must always be protected in a criminal justice proceedings, many legal scholars and criminal justice professionals feel that the R. v. Jordan ruling may be a misguided attempt at solving the problem of trial delays. Benjamin Perrin, (a law professor at the University of British Columbia), in writing for The Globe and Mail stated, “The Supreme Court was flying blind when it set the standards in R. v. Jordan and had no idea what impact its decision would have … Parliament should streamline the Criminal Code, focus it on serious offences and abolish unnecessary procedures.”

The recent decisions relating to these cases, point to the significant problems our justice system is currently experiencing. Thousands of cases clog up the system every year which never amount to anything, with many criminal charges being stayed or withdrawn (43.1% on average in Ontario, the highest in Canada). A study found that in Newfoundland and Labrador, up to 72% of court’s sitting time is spent on scheduling hearings alone. Both examples indicate the major inefficiencies within Canada’s court systems, and with the R. v. Jordan decision, may result in many more serious cases being dismissed.

The CRCVC echoes the concerns many raise about the potential impact the R. v. Jordan decision will have on subsequent cases being stayed. Our greatest sympathies go out to Fouad’s family and friends. While the Crown is appealing the decision, it is of little comfort to them. It is abhorrent that the most serious charges can be thrown out solely due to scheduling and procedural failures. Victims’ rights need to be considered and protected during the criminal trial. We will continue to advocate that victims be dealt with equitably, respectfully, and compassionately in our criminal justice system. To read our recent letter to the federal Minister of Justice & Attorney General regarding these matters, click here.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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