FEDS GO CHEAP ON VICTIMS AID

This via Steve Sullivan

VICTIMS’ TRAVEL NIXED; FEDS WON’T SPEND $1.7M ON PAROLE HEARING AID

The Toronto Sun

Mon 22 Nov 2004

KATHLEEN HARRIS, OTTAWA BUREAU

THE LIBERAL government shied away from helping needy victims get to parole hearings after the costs for such help were pegged at roughly $1.7 million a year, federal documents show.

Records obtained by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime under Access to Information reveal travel, salaries and operating costs for a victims’ assistance program are estimated at $6.5 million for the first five years. Annual ongoing costs would be $1.7 million, according to the government projections.

Resource centre president Steve Sullivan called the sum a “drop in the bucket” compared to the massive costs associated with running Canada’s courts and prisons.

‘VERY FRUSTRATING’

“It doesn’t seem like much when you consider the federal corrections system alone is over $1 billion, the federal parole board is $35 million. When you consider the entire justice system with courts and police, you’re talking tens of billions of dollars,” he said.

Sullivan called it “very frustrating” that the government crunched the numbers and recognized its responsibility — but has still failed to deliver on it two years later. Meanwhile, it continues to fund pricey programs and legal deals for prisoners, he said.

In 2001, victims won the right to read statements at National Parole Board hearings.

‘INCREASING PRESSURE’

Government briefings obtained under Access to Information, supported by detailed program analysis and fact sheets, note that “increasing pressure” was anticipated for cash assistance to help victims get to hearings.

“The most persuasive argument is that, in the absence of the means to attend hearings, the government hasn’t really given victims a voice at parole hearings,” the document reads.

Alex Swann, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, said the department is considering assistance but stressed it’s just one of many “competing claims” for government cash.

“There are a number of proposals that have been put to us — other proposals to improve victims’ access, proposals to enhance public safety and proposals to improve safety in the prisons,” Swann said.

“You have to give consideration to all competing priorities.”

But Sullivan insists $1.7 million would barely make a dent in the bulging federal bank.

$9B SURPLUS CURRENTLY

“Everybody thinks it’s the right thing to do. It’s just a question of money,” he said. “Hearing now about a $9-billion surplus, we would hope the federal government won’t continue to say it doesn’t have any.”

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