Victim Services

Executive summary

Canada plays a leading role in addressing the concerns and needs of victims of crime and trauma. Victims are recognized at all levels of the Canadian Justice System. The RCMP, a federal police organization that performs provincial police duties under contract, comes in contact with victims of crime and trauma on a daily basis. At the time of an incident the RCMP is concerned with the well-being of the victim and recognizes their responsibility in ensuring that the victim is made aware of the services to which they are entitled. Historically this has meant that the RCMP has provided the victim with a card outlining the range of services that are available to them, and by seeking the victim consent to contact Victim Services on their behalf. While this method has resulted in referrals to Victims Services, there is evidence supported by the decline of referrals in recent years that the present method of referral making by consent only is not fully effective. This then results in many victims of crime and trauma not being afforded the opportunity to receive information to enable access to available services and support required to proceed through the criminal justice process. Furthermore, this lack of information and support can result in their re-victimization.

The RCMP Victim Services Program objectives are designed to lessen the impact of crime and trauma on victims and their families and to assist in their recovery, to increase victim safety and to help reduce the risk of further victimization, to increase victims' level of participation in the criminal justice system, and to increase the effectiveness of victims acting as witnesses in court proceedings. These objectives are achieved in partnership with Victim Services, through a continuum of care. From a call for help to the investigation of a crime and the offer of a referral to Victim Services being made is a seamless process that enables another arm of the criminal justice system to support victims without delay. There are circumstances where a victim is not able to process information due to shock and is unable to provide informed consent. The victim may be also physically incapacitated, intoxicated or receiving medical treatment. At these times the police assess the situation and can make a referral, without consent, on behalf of the victim. There are still a number of victims, though, falling though the cracks where crisis intervention may be necessary and the police cannot make a referral to Victim Services on their behalf without the consent of the victim.

This Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) discusses the sharing of personal information through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the RCMP and Provincial/Territorial governments under section 8(2)(f) of the Privacy Act. Section 8(2)(f) states that personal information under the control of the government may be disclosed without consent under an agreement or arrangement between the Government of Canada or an institution thereof and the government of a province, the council of the Westbank First Nation, the council of a participating First Nation, the government of a foreign state, an international organization of states or an international organization established by the governments of states, or any institution of any such government or organization, for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation. The RCMP supports Victim Services, and will share relevant information with these programs in accordance, first and foremost with the Privacy Act, and in accordance with Provincial Acts so that victims may be informed of services they are entitled to receive. The RCMP collaborates with Victim Services to enable the prevention and reduction of victimization and potential re-victimization of victims of crime and trauma. The RCMP respects the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and recognizes that victims shall be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect. This is a component of the RCMP Victim Services mandate. Victim Services provides information to victims on behalf of the police, allowing the RCMP to fulfill its obligations pursuant to the Provincial Policing Service Agreement, as per provincial /territorial Victims of Crime Legislation and section 18 and 20 of the RCMP Act.

Each MOU outlines the circumstances where a proactive referral may be made and contact information will be provided to Victim Services, when the initial consent of the victim was not obtained. Contact information includes name, address, telephone number, gender, age and language preference (if required). Additional information regarding circumstances of the incident will also shared with respect to the involvement of drugs, alcohol or firearms and is specific to the incident and therefore not identifiable to an individual. The safety of the victim and the victim services advocate is always the primary concern so additional information may be provided in circumstances where a no contact order is in place or if charges have been laid and the suspect has been released on conditions. Furthermore, a brief description of the crime alleged to have been committed against the victim is provided. The police will assess each incident and provide only the applicable information to Victim Service through the use of a standard victim services referral form. Police electronic management systems are not used to exchange information between the RCMP and provincial/territorial governments; therefore no technological risks apply.

The victim services referral model is designed to permit the police officer to conduct an assessment at the scene and determine if conditions exist where a proactive referral will be made. A proactive referral can be made for all person offences, in all instances where the crime is of a serious property offence (Value of loss exceeds $5,000), in all instances where a high risk victim has been identified, in all instances where a victim belongs to the vulnerable sector and in other exceptional circumstances where informed consent cannot be obtained. The necessity of proactive referrals to Victim Services guarantees that a victim has the opportunity to provide informed consent. If ,when contacted by Victim Services the victim does not wish to consent to the services offered, there will be no further contact with the victim unless the victim chooses at a later time to contact Victim Services on their own.

The RCMP has conducted an assessment of this MOU process to establish that the necessary accountability for the initiative exists, that a risk identification has been conducted and that the potential for privacy breaches has been examined and mitigated where possible . The Commissioner of the RCMP is responsible for the Department and has the overall authority to support new programs and/or initiatives. This PIA has received that approval and sign off. The risk associated to this initiative evolves around the context of the information being particularly sensitive and the use of personal information can affect all Canadians at some period of time should they become a victim of crime and trauma. While the disclosure of personal information is limited to specific data elements, the knowledge that an individual has been a victim of crime or trauma is sensitive and must be disclosed only to those agencies with which an agreement exists. This prevents the potential for inadvertent disclosures.

The potential of risk for privacy breaches has also been examined and the RCMP has in place identified protocols to respond to such an incident. The RCMP follows the government policy on Access to Information and Privacy - Guidelines for Privacy Breaches and Explanatory Notes to Privacy Protection Checklist as well as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) of Canada Privacy Breach Guide and Privacy Breach Checklist. This ensures that individuals are advised in all instances of a breach of information.

For the victim services information sharing initiative, the Four-Part Test of R. V. Oakes for Necessity and Proportionality was applied. This test is used to weigh reasonable limitations on rights and freedoms in a free and democratic society. It assesses necessity, effectiveness, proportionality and minimization. The test questions whether the measure can be demonstrated to meet a specific need, if the measure is effective in meeting the need, if the loss of privacy is proportional to the need and if there is a less privacy-invasive way of achieving the same need. The RCMP used this test to ensure that broader privacy risks and societal implications were carefully evaluated at the outset. The examination determined that the need to provide victims with support is a public goal that is both pressing and substantial, that providing proactive referrals under controlled circumstances by police to Victim Services ensures the continuum of care that victims of crime and trauma are entitled too in accordance with law, that the minimal intrusion of privacy to a victim of crime and trauma will result in the provision of information and services necessary to guide a victim through the criminal justice process and decrease the potential for re-victimization, and that an alternative method for referral making using only the minimal information necessary is disclosed to ensure that crime victims are provided with information concerning the services to which they are entitled in accordance with law was examined.

Privacy risks were identified and recommendations have been made to mitigate them:

  • The RCMP create a new Personal Information Bank (PIB) for the Victim Services Program to advise the general public of this source of information;
  • The RCMP post the PIA Executive Summary to the corporate website that explains the Victim Services Program and the sharing of information under 8(2)(f) of the Privacy Act;
  • MOU's be established between the RCMP and Provincial and/or Territorial governments as per section 8(2)(f) of the Privacy Act prior to the disclosure of personal information;
  • MOU's be established between the RCMP and Provincial and/or Territorial governments as per section 8(2)(f) of the Privacy Act only where Provincial and Territorial legislation permit the sharing of information without the consent of the individual;
  • The RCMP publish the Victim Assistance policy to ensure a consistent approach to referral making and information sharing is taken;
  • The RCMP provide a copy of the final approved policy to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada;
  • RCMP Divisional policy regarding Victim Services be reviewed and aligned, where necessary, with National policy;
  • The RCMP develop a review guide to measure compliance with the Victim Assistance policy. This guide can be utilized where required during the Unit Level Quality Assurance (ULQA), Risk Management and Managerial Review processes;
  • The RCMP develop a Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) survey code for Victim Services - Proactive Referral to measure the number of referrals made where consent was not provided in the first instance;
  • The RCMP create a Victim Services link on the corporate web site to provide the general public with the ability to obtain information about the victim services program and the circumstances in which their personal information is disclosed;
  • The RCMP Divisions review their respective web sites and add a link to the national web site to ensure full access to all information on RCMP Victim Services; and
  • The RCMP utilize the internal intranet site InfoWeb to post a feature article on the Victim Services program to its membership.

Victims of crime and trauma have been vocal in expressing their concern that they are not receiving the services which could have helped them through the criminal justice process. At times when the service has come late or not come at all, victims have suffered undue trauma, confusion and frustration. It has been recognized through the criminal justice system that this situation is a common occurrence. The problem is also evidenced by judges in court who, recognizing the needs of the victim, have made referrals for Victim Services without the consent of the victim. The necessity to do so is a direct response to a societal concern that all victims should have access to the assistance and services to which they are entitled. The sharing of information, under controlled circumstances, by the RCMP with Victim Services will guarantee that right.

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