THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2004

CAVAC, BAVAC, FAVAC, IVAC, … I’m so confused!

Recently I was asked to do a little critique of the various victim service providers in the province of Quebec. I have researched the topic for some time now, and gathered stories from people who have front-line experience with these organizations and am now ready to offer my opinions, but be forewarned – this is just my OPINION. I welcome anyone with further insights or war stories to chime in their information.

To begin with, I asked Claire Lessard, the head of Quebec’s Provincial Working Group On Victims Of Crime, to provide me with a list of all victim service providers in Quebec. She indicated two; CAVAC and the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes (that’s sort of true, but we’ll get to that – there are actually more than two groups.) Anyway before getting to CAVAC and the Plaidoyer, I should say a few words about BAVAC, the organization Ms. Lessard works for:

BAVAC

BAVAC stands for the Bureau d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels. BAVAC is the office that manages the funds provided to CAVAC. In effect, they foster CAVAC’s existence, and act as a buffer between the administrative hand (BAVAC) and the service provider (CAVAC). The actual financing of these funds come from FAVAC, Fonds d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels; though why there needs to be a further separation of duties with FAVAC is anybody’s guess (this whole mess was created in 1972 through the Loi sur l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels. BAVAC, CAVAC and FAVAC all fall under the umbrella of Quebec’s Minister of Justice.

OK, so far – in case you haven’t noticed – we have a whole lot of bureaucratic acronyms, but nothing for victims. This leads us to…

CAVAC

CAVAC stands for Centres d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels. CAVAC is the nexus of victim service provision in Quebec. The CAVAC consists of a network of 15 offices scattered across every region of Quebec. CAVAC prides itself on providing professional services in psychological intervention, criminology and social work. At its best, the CAVAC has been praised for their level of professionalism – unlike some provinces, Quebec offers victims some of the best services for counseling with legal and psychological problems related to victims’ issues. Yet, an oft heard criticism is that CAVAC members appear stuffy and aloof. Their professional accreditation distances them from some of the hands-on needs of victims. CAVAC isn’t the most touchy-feely organization.

Many complain about CAVAC’s invisibility – they don’t exactly reach out and grab ya’. From my own experience, it should be noted that in the twenty-five years since 
my sister’s death no one in my family ever knew of the organization’s existence – not back in 1979 when my parents were struggling to deal with the death of their daughter, nor recently when I myself publicly – very publicly – denounced the Quebec criminal justice system for their incompetent handling of my sister’s investigation. The first time I ever met anyone from the CAVAC was at Justice Canada’s National Victims Conference last November in Ottawa. They were not the most demonstrative bunch; they kept very much amongst themselves. It finally took forcing Pierre Boisvenu to introduce me to get some face-time with CAVAC. They shook hands, and that’s about it. They never cracked a smile. Its ok, I’m used to that; but can you imagine a victim who is raw and new to trauma coming up against these stepford wives? CAVAC could use a little customer service training.

Ok, so CAVAC provides the victim support, but what about compensation? 

I’ve suffered, I want to be paid for it, dammit!

For that you must turn to…

IVAC

IVAC bill themselves as the “ray of light for victims of criminal acts”. If that ray equates to cold-hard-cash, then, yes, IVAC is a gravy train. IVAC stands for Indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels. They are associated with CAVAC, but actually fall under the umbrella of Quebec’s Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CSST).Again, like CAVAC, IVAC suffers from an identity problem – nobody knows about the organization. According to Kristian Gravenor who wrote about IVAC fairly recently in the Montreal Mirror:

Quebec began giving money to victims of violent crime in 1972 but, according to a Solicitor-General’s report from 1987, less than one per cent of Quebec’s crime victims applied for the money.

Gauthier says she does not know what proportion of current victims know about their potential for cash compensation, but mentions that IVAC’s attempts to publicize their fund consist of once-a-year advertisements in magazines aimed at medical professionals.

The methods for calculating victims compensation seem very arbitrary. For instance, Pierre Boisvenu – the father of Julie Boisvenu who was murdered in downtown Sherbrooke two years ago – was given a check for $600 from IVAC to cover the cost of funeral expenses. In his case, this was the maximum amount IVAC permitted. This despite the fact that – now that the trial of alleged murderer, Hugo Bernier has been moved to Montreal – the Boisvenu family will incur countless expenses in traveling back and forth from Sherbrooke to Montreal to participate in the trial. 

At the other end of the spectrum, in some cases IVAC has been known to be extraordinarily generous. According to Monique Gauthier of IVAC (again, this is from Gravenor) “Unlike other victims’ compensation funds in North America, ours has no minimum or maximum payment. With some others, they only give up to $50,000 a year, but we have no limit and people can receive it all their lives.” Indeed, I know one victim who complained about the “measly” $6,000 per month he had received from IVAC over the past 23 years. When I related this to Alberta’s head of their provincial working group on victims of crime she nearly fell off her seat.

In my own case, just to see how the system worked, I recently applied to IVAC for compensation for my sister’s death. Although you must apply to IVAC a year after a crime has been committed, I argued that it was only last year that the police admitted that a crime occurred, so I was entitled to my share. The form was easy to fill out, and they required me to submit some proof of death (I think I sent newspaper articles). I decided to shoot-the-moon and ask for $5,000, but their lawyer informed I was only eligible for funeral reimbursement; I’ll let you know if I ever receive that $600 check.

Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes

Where CAVAC provides professional support and IVAC doles out compensation, the Plaidoyer-Victimes is supposed to fill in the holes through victims advocacy. I know little about this group (I know they won’t return my emails) – but the word on the street is that this organization is a shadow of what it used to be. Any grassroots advocacy group needs a driving force; the Plaidoyer is a ship without a captain. Take one look at their website and you’ll see what I mean, it hasn’t been updated in years (though there are promises that updates are “coming soon”). Still, the Plaidoyer plans to hold a victims conference in Montreal this coming October. Maybe they will turn things around.

Recently there has been something of a victims revolt in Quebec. Last month I was asked to participate in a meeting between Quebec Victims and the former Minister of Justice, Marc Bellemare. The basic demands were a call for the reform of CAVAC and IVAC, and a request for funding of a new Quebec victims advocacy group – one that would replace the Plaidoyer. Although I was unable to attend the meeting, I understand that the outcome was positive (though Bellemare had a hard time saying no to any victim, and now with him gone, it’s doubtful that any of his promises will be kept.)

So that’s my two-cents on the state of victims service providers in Quebec. Again, if anyone has further insights, I welcome them. I’m trying to learn about these things too.

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