01 Apr Victims of Terrorism: Where Does Canada Stand?
By Adrianne Humen, 2014 Victimology Graduate Certificate Student at Algonquin College
Victims without names
When tragic and sudden events such as the Air India terrorist attack, 9/11, or more recently the terrorist attacks in Kenya occur, the media coverage of the incident is immediate and extensive. Although Canadians deserve to know about and get updates on the aftermath of these events, the victims and their families are often neglected out of what appears to be courtesy by the media. However, this neglect is not limited to media coverage. Victims of terrorism are continually forgotten long after the media coverage of the event has ceased. Canada is not the only country struggling to help victims of terrorism after they have been injured or lost a loved one, but there are other countries doing far more to acknowledge their own victims of terrorism and to support them long after the crime has taken place.
In the media coverage, the names of the victims are often not immediately known, however there is a pronounced lack of follow-up regarding survivors and the families of those lost. The terrorist attack in Mumbai had two Canadian victims, Michael Rudder and Michael Moss, both of whom were injured but survived. It took more research than should have been necessary to find their names – and there were no statements from the government concerning these victims. Not only is this exclusion limiting the voice of victims; it also creates a hierarchy of what is more important: the attack itself or those who have been harmed? Although terrorism attacks are tragic and confusing to understand, the lack of a victim’s voice creates the notion that there were no victims or anonymizes victims by grouping them into one nameless group. Victims have names, and it is essential that the media continue to remind the public that those who have been injured or lost their lives had families and loved ones who are suffering. By collecting multiple victims of terrorism into one faceless group, the media in effect makes the death of a family member even more difficult for victims.
Victims without recourse
Victims of terrorism are being left without any options. The current legislation in the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act makes it impossible for victims to claim any sort of compensation. Although both Acts are necessary to protect Canada and provide justice for victims of terrorism, a series of political failures have prevented these Acts from being more effective in serving victims. In addition, victims of terrorism abroad are in unique circumstances as they are unable to file compensation claims with any compensation board since the attack did not happen in Canada. Many other countries are doing a much better job helping victims of terrorism out. Spain, for example, views its victims of terrorism as victims of a human rights violation. This strengthens the obligations of the state to helping victims. France classifies those who have witnessed and suffered psychological trauma as a result of a terrorist attack as equally legitimate victims on a par with those who have been injured or killed. Finally, the United Kingdom has an extremely complex system supplying victims with various victim service workers (these include Family Liaison Officers) in order to explain complicated legal and financial matters to the victim and/or the victim’s family.
Canada and Canadians alike must aspire to making the rights of victims of terrorism a reality. The first major issue is within the legislation. The Anti-Terrorism Act specifically states: “acts of terrorism threaten Canada’s political institutions, the stability of the economy and welfare of the nation” (Anti-Terrorism Act, para. 3). Nowhere in this statement are the lives of victims mentioned. Terrorism does not only threaten the economy and political welfare of Canada; it threatens the lives of Canadian citizens. It is important to continually remind the public and the leaders of Canada that terrorism not only unsettles a nation but also has dire consequences in the lives of Canadian citizens. In addition to the lack of acknowledgement in the Anti-Terrorism Act, victims are suffering due to the lack of success in lawsuits filed against terrorists and the countries that have funded their attacks. In a recent lawsuit, a judge has ruled that the victim will not receive a penny since he or she did not meet the requirements necessary for a successful lawsuit to come to fruition. Although it may be good that victims are taking their rights to file lawsuits seriously, the constant denial and lack of positive outcomes will eventually cause victims to simply stop trying. Victims of terrorism need to be acknowledged in order to become empowered to continue to fight for their rights.
Canada’s leaders and important central figures must aim at spreading awareness about terrorist attacks and the victims it has claimed. Victims and their families need to be acknowledged. The current victims rights groups need support from the government in order to further spread awareness and advocate from a victim-centred perspective. Very few news reports mention the direct victims; the families and close friends of these victims are completely absent from the widespread news coverage.
Victims need to be empowered in order for them to speak up and tell the country what they need. They are innocent targets of violence, and they deserve their country’s support.
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