Compensation for victims: “We need IVAC to hold our hand”

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Compensation for victims: “We need IVAC to hold our hand”

A little over a year after the reform of the compensation plan for victims of criminal acts (IVAC), victims and interveners consider that it remains difficult to get help. The Quebec Department of Justice promised to put victims “at the heart of the process”.

Johanie Bellemare St-Georges pleads for better coordination between IVAC and the various organizations that support victims.

Johanie Bellemare St-Georges is now recognized as a victim of criminal acts by the IVAC, a status she describes as dearly acquired. “I felt like I was just a number and they just wanted to apply strict rules to my case,” she says. I still consider myself lucky for all the help I received. »

Nurse Amélie Mercier has long refused to consider herself a victim. However, she refuses to blame the IVAC regime.

The justice system may not have helped me to punish the person who committed a criminal act against me, but it still helped me on my way, she explains. To heal. IVAC changed everything for me. I am extremely grateful for this program.

Two victims, two realities. The cases of Johanie and Amélie offer an overview of the range of the approximately 15,000 claims for compensation that the IVAC received between October 2021 and October 2022.

Founded in 1972, the IVAC system was reformed in October 2021 with the promise of putting victims of criminal offenses back at the heart of the process, according to a press release from the Ministry of Justice. If the number of compensated increases, some, like Johanie Bellemare St-Georges, would like to be better supported and advised.

Although she is grateful to receive benefits from the IVAC, Johanie Bellemare St-Georges wanted to obtain compensation as part of the jury trial of her alleged attacker in the fall of 2022.

Johanie Bellemare St-Georges, whose file is deemed complex, recalls that she had to be enterprising to obtain the sums to which she was entitled. In addition to the difficulty of being listened to and of benefiting from personalized support adapted to her situation, she deplores the waiting times on the telephone and the processing times associated with her file.

“When you're in PTSD, everything is a mountain. Just to take steps like that is cumbersome. We would need the IVAC to hold us by the hand, accompany us, call us. We shouldn't be doing this. »

—Johanie Bellemare St-Georges

The 38-year-old is not the first to complain about IVAC in these terms.

The former Public Protector, Raymonde Saint-Germain, published a special report in 2016 to expose the shortcomings of the government system. His successor, Marc-André Dowd, recalls in the most recent report from the Québec Ombudsman that the general management of the IVAC sometimes applies its own criteria for granting financial assistance in a restrictive manner, depriving victims of support essential to their recovery.

Johanie Bellemare St-Georges, who claims to have been forced to tattoo the nickname of her alleged attacker on an intimate part of her body, claims, for example, to have cried on the phone to obtain reimbursement for her tattoo removal sessions.

It was not accepted the first time. When I spoke to the worker from IVAC about it, she said to me: "Ah no, that, we don't reimburse […] We will go through psychotherapy to help you accept the tattoo and to live with”. I was so insulted, says Ms. Bellemare St-Georges. The speaker then realized that the rule she was trying to follow made no sense.

Victims who attend the Rouyn-Noranda Support Point can record the consequences of their assault on a life-size figure.

According to the Québec Ombudsman and the former Minister of Justice, Me Marc Bellemare, the reform of the IVAC is like a glass of water. Except that it is half full for one and half empty for the other.

The first considers by e-mail that it demonstrates a desire to better recognize that the victim of a criminal offense has the right to appropriate assistance. Extension of crimes against the person, broadening of the notion of victim, extension or abolition of deadlines for submitting a claim for compensation… so many aspects welcomed by the institution, despite the persistence of certain shortcomings.

< p class="e-p">The second, who represents injured victims in court, ensures that it does not change anything. It awards IVAC the lemon prize for public bodies. It should be the opposite. We should offer listening, compassion, human stakeholders, he argues. IVAC deals with a very specific clientele. You must have been the victim of a crime against the person. Sexual assault, attempted murder, assault, serious crimes that cause permanent damage.

“It's not a good law [the IVAC reform]. It is not true that all victims are better off. We offer more psychological services, but good luck finding a psychologist. »

— Me Marc Bellemare

Me Bellemare also denounces the framework offered by the IVAC to compensation claimants. He describes the agents as cold and not very empathetic, a situation that persisted despite the October 2021 reform.

Marc Bellemare's firm, Bellemare Avocats, represents citizens who are victims of traffic accidents. the road, accidents at work and criminal acts. (File photo)

One ​​of the crux of the problem lies, according to him, in the centralization of IVAC services at 1199 De Bleury Street in Montreal.< /p>

This is why I have clients in Rouyn-Noranda, in Gaspé, in Drummondville. They have been on compensation for ten years, but they have never met the official who is handling their case. The quality of services is much lower, he insists. It's very dehumanized. We talk to voicemail, agents do not call back. Not to mention the extremely high turnover of officials responsible for files.

“Decentralization in each region is urgent. There should be a regional office [of IVAC] in Rouyn-Noranda or Val-d’Or, as is the case with the CNESST. »

— Me Marc Bellemare

In addition to the skills of IVAC agents and the centralization of services, Me Bellemare criticizes the changes made by the reform to the replacement indemnities of income. He admits that the reform compensates more victims, but adds that those declared unfit for work can lose their benefit after just three years.

The Public Protector, for his part, regrets the inequalities that persist between the categories of victims and the notion of child disability, which is rarely applicable to minors, in particular.

Amélie Mercier specifies that the allowances from the IVAC help her “a lot”. She points out that she would have continued to “sink” if it weren't for the therapy that the organization is funding for her.

It's in contact with ;Stakeholders, such as patrol officers and investigators, whom Amélie Mercier let herself be convinced to try her luck with the IVAC. A CAVAC worker helped her take the plunge.

She filled out the form for me. I am an educated person, I went to university, I am able to fill out forms, but I was not able to admit that I was a victim. For me, I was not a victim, I was a complainant. I [only] signed the sheet.

A bulletin board at the Point d'Appui, in Rouyn-Noranda, contains words of encouragement.

Her story overlaps with the advice of Judy Noury ​​and Josée Bélisle, respectively a worker at the Point d support in Rouyn-Noranda and administrative coordinator of CALACS-Abitibi in Amos. They invite victims to seek the help of interveners to support them and guide them through the IVAC procedures.

Are they [the forms] accessible to everyone in the way they are written? I don't think so […] Maybe even we, as workers, are not aware of the panoply of services to which they may be entitled. A professional service is wide. It would be interesting to post this information on the [IVAC] website, underlines Judy Noury.

The IVAC reform has streamlined the forms, according to Josée Bélisle, worker. The exercise remains “somewhat difficult” for some, because they need support.

The IVAC form has been greatly simplified, continues Josée Bélisle, but it remains an often difficult process for victims. They must go back to the heart of the violence they have suffered. It's hard too, because it's paperwork for them.

Amélie Mercier started her therapy, funded by IVAC, about a year ago. Today, I'm doing great. I have a much more liberated mind. More openness. A better understanding and acceptance of my emotions, she evokes.

I encourage all victims of criminal acts, whatever they are, even if they have no not lodge a complaint, to take the steps, completes Johanie Bellemare St-Georges. Even if it is not always obvious, it is your right.

The general management of IVAC, which declined our request for an interview, reminds us in writing that the number of victims compensated has increased in 2022 compared to previous years. The leaders of the organization assure that they have improved the way in which the victims are accompanied.

With the entry into force of the Act to assist victims of crime and promote their recovery (LAPVIC), there are more than 6,700 additional people compared to the same period the previous year who received aid from the IVAC, indicates the management of the IVAC.

About 13,400 people have been compensated by the x27;IVAC between October 2021 and October 2022, compared to 6655 between October 2020 and October 2021.

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