Victim Advisory Committee - Pacific Region
by Marjean Fichtenberg
In September of 1993, one year after the death of my father to cancer, I was finally beginning to settle down to my new life in Bella Coola, British Columbia. Life was good. I had a good job and my three children were on their way to promising futures. Then, on Labour Day weekend, I received the phone call that was to change the direction of my life and send the lives of my son and my daughter into turmoil for many years.
My oldest son, Dennis had been murdered in his home of Prince George, BC by a violent offender on Day Parole. In a state of shock and disbelief, I left Bella Coola for Prince George, a 12-hour drive. In a daze, I made arrangements to have Dennis' body sent to Chilliwack for the funeral and burial. I then returned to Prince George to gather his belongings and returned to Bella Coola.
Two weeks after returning to Bella Coola, I knew I had to find out the circumstances of his murder and make some sense of it. I returned to Prince George. I wanted to speak to the Executive Director of the half-way house where the man who murdered my son had been staying. During my visit with him, he uttered one sentence that sent me on a two and a half year quest to find out the truth about the circumstances surrounding the violent murder of my son. That sentence was:
"There was something about him (the man who murdered my son) that I didn't know, if I would have known, he would not have been allowed in this house".
Bella Coola is a very small, isolated coastal community. So from there, I launched a letter writing campaign. I wrote literally hundreds of letters to the Correctional Service of Canada, the National Parole Board and the RCMP. In return, I either received form letters or no response at all. I launched complaints and made numerous requests for information through the Access to Information Act.
Eventually, after two years, I convinced some people from the Correctional Service of Canada, the National Parole Board and the RCMP to meet with me in person. I was still not happy with the responses, so I embarked on a campaign to convince the BC Attorney General to re-open the file and call for a public inquest.
Finally, two and a half years after the murder of my son, a public inquest took place in Prince George. Many recommendations came of the inquest, but the most significant one was a recommendation that a "Victims' Ombudsman" office be formed to investigate complaints from victims who feel they have been treated unfairly. The Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board decided to respond to that recommendation by forming a regional CSC-NPB Victim Advisory Committee to advise their respective organizations. The committee was formed in the fall of 1996.
The Victim Advisory Committee in BC was the first committee of its kind in Canada, and as such, there were no models to follow in its creation. The original members were ground-breakers in learning to effectively communicate and share information with the many players in the federal system. The process of meeting to discuss issues and educate one another has been a tremendous learning curve for Corrections Canada, the National Parole Board and the victims involved with the Victim Advisory Committee, but the rewards have been many.
Members of the Victim Advisory Committee have shared their experiences and knowledge about the dynamics of victimization. They have assisted corrections and parole staff to better understand a victim's perspective. They have also recommended ways to improve their communications with and approach to victims of violent crime. All Victim Advisory Committee members would likely agree that many challenges had to be overcome before reaching their full potential as a Committee. The Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board also had much to learn about how best to tap the resources of the Committee. What once seemed like a chasm that might never be spanned is now flourishing. It has taken much patience and perseverance on the part of everyone, but all have benefited from this unique process.
I have seen many changes in the last 14 years since the inception of the first Victim Advisory Committee. The Committee has made many recommendations to the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board which have resulted in positive changes and improved services to victims.
The experience has helped me realize my goal of assisting victims by helping the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board to communicate more effectively with victims. This, in turn, has created a lasting legacy to the memory of my son, Dennis. It has helped move me from the position of "Victim" to "Survivor".
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