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PQ proposes big boost to death benefits for victims’ families

Quebec Minister of Justice, Bertrand St-Arnaud tables a bill at the Quebec legislature, Thursday February 21, 2013.

CLEMENT ALLARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Parti Québécois government is proposing to increase death benefits substantially for families of victims of violent crimes. A parent will be entitled to $12,000 in compensation for the loss of a child as a result of a crime, a marked increase from the current $2,000.

"I am aware that no sum of money can compensate the death of a child, but the amount currently being paid to parents is, frankly, unacceptable and must be remedied," Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud said.

In recent years, the violent deaths of children as a result of crimes led to a public uproar and calls for major improvements to government assistance for the families of victims.

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Isabelle Gaston, whose two young children were murdered by their father, launched a battle on behalf of families who suffered similar tragedies. She was supported by Michel Surprenant, who heads a group representing families of crime victims. Mr. Surprenant's daughter disappeared in 1999. Her body was never found, and she was declared legally dead. The presumed murderer, a known sexual offender, died in 2006. Authorities had denied Mr. Surprenant the right to speak with the alleged murderer.

"Our system does little to protect the victims," he said last year during a public inquiry into his daughter's death.

Mr. St-Arnaud agreed that more needs to be done to help grieving families who lose a loved one as a result of a violent crime.

"I think that all of Quebec was saddened by certain situations over these last few years," Mr. St-Arnaud said. "I think media interventions such as the ones by Mrs. Gaston made us realize that it made no sense [to offer such little compensation]."

Under proposed legislation, reimbursement for funeral charges will increase to $5,000 from $3,000. The maximum amount allotted to clean up a crime scene would be set at $3,200.

For victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence, the government is also proposing financial compensation equivalent to two months' rent up to a maximum of $1,000 a month to cover charges for terminating a lease for personal security reasons.

The former Liberal regime had introduced a bill to address several of these issues, but it died when the election was called last summer. The PQ proposals for compensation are more generous.

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Mr. St-Arnaud urged the opposition to allow quick passage of the bill so it can be adopted as early as next month.

The minister added that he has offered $50,000 out of the discretionary riding budget he receives each year from the Quebec National Assembly to help families affected by recent crimes who may not be covered by the changes. He has invited other MNAs to do the same.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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