Melissa, right, speaks with CBC journalist Sarah Leavitt about discovering she and her children were secretly being filmed, and how her now-former boyfriend is awaiting trial on voyeurism and other charges. (CBC)
For eight years, Melissa felt like the luckiest woman in the world. She had a supportive and caring boyfriend who loved her kids, even if they weren’t his own.
Then she discovered the cameras.
They were hidden all over her house, secretly filming her every move.
“It was like somebody literally took the carpet right out from underneath us,” Melissa said.
Her now ex-boyfriend is now awaiting trial on charges of voyeurism, possession of child pornography and production of child pornography.
Melissa’s true identity cannot be revealed due to a publication ban: her son was a minor for part of the time the alleged offences were committed.
Now, Melissa says she and her family should be eligible for financial help through Quebec’s victim compensation program because what happened to them has left them struggling, psychologically and financially.
The program, Indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels, or IVAC, provides financial help to those who are injured psychologically or physically because of a crime, as well as to the close family members of those who have died as a result of one.
The charges against Melissa’s ex are not included on the list of eligible offences.
While charges such as “interfering with transportation facilities” or causing a “false fire alarm” are on the list, others — such as “child pornography” and “criminal harassment” — are not.
Discovering the cameras
Melissa’s son and his girlfriend discovered the first camera in December, hidden in her bathroom.
The young man called her, panicked, telling her to come over.
“When I got there, they showed me videos that had been taken in our bathroom,” Melissa said.
“Of everything — people brushing their teeth, using the toilet, showering. Everything.”
They decided then and there to go to the police, and her boyfriend was arrested that same night.
Melissa couldn’t shake the feeling more cameras existed. The next day, she scoured her home and found nine more devices, as well as a USB key containing edited videos.
“They were of me or my daughter, and they were videos of us dressing or undressing: naked in some form,” Melissa said.
“There was also videos of us having sex together.”
Some dated back to 2010, when Melissa first started going out with the man.
Melissa says she handed over all evidence to police, but not before her son snapped a photo of some of the devices found. (Submitted by Melissa)
‘Difficult for me to function at all’
Melissa says the discovery rocked her to her core.
“For many weeks, it was very difficult for me to function at all. I was not sleeping, not eating, not functioning. It really felt like the end of the world.”
Consumed by feelings of paranoia, Melissa was unable to work, and soon used up all her sick leave and vacation days.
“I felt afraid. I felt I didn’t know who this person was. I felt I had been lied to, that my family had been used and that it was my fault because I had put them in that position,” she said.
Her grown kids, too, were affected. Her daughter worried she would run into the man who had videotaped them, and her son’s girlfriend is now obsessed with searching for hidden cameras.
Melissa’s son is struggling the most right now, she says. Enrolled in CEGEP at the time of the discovery, he began to fail and then quit.
“A man who he considered to be like a father — it’s very difficult for him, that feeling of betrayal,” Melissa said.
There was a psychological toll, but a financial one as well. Melissa had to take almost three months off work before returning progressively. She also had to move to a new home.
With help from the Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC), Melissa applied for IVAC compensation, even though she knew she would be rejected.
In March, she received a letter confirming she was not eligible under the current rules.
“Even if I don’t get the psychological help or financial help from IVAC, I feel that in the future, women or men who go through a form of physical trauma like this should be compensated, and it should be taken seriously,” Melissa said.
Dire need of reform
The IVAC program hasn’t been updated since its creation in 1972, when the Crime Victims Compensation Act became law.
For years, there have been calls for reform, with many saying the list of crimes covered through IVAC is antiquated and incomplete.
In 1993, the Parti Québécois tabled a bill to make changes but it died on the order table.
As president of the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes since 1988, Arlène Gaudreault has spent much of her time fighting for change.
“In the past 30 years, every successive government has said it would reform the law,” she said.
“It’s part of every election platform, but it hasn’t changed.”
There have been efforts to improve the program within the constraints of the law, but none has gone far enough. In 2016, the Quebec Ombudsman released a report blasting the public compensation system.
The ombudsman pointed to long wait times, incomplete information made available to victims and limited access to both services and compensation.
“Often IVAC favours a restrictive interpretation of the Crime Victims Compensation Act, applies it rigidly or imposes conditions not found in it,” the report notes.
The program came under further scrutiny when IVAC denied compensation, twice, to the widow of one of the men killed during the Quebec City mosque shooting.
IVAC argued the woman and her children did not demonstrate injury resulting directly from a criminal act. After lawyer Marc Bellemare stepped in, the family was finally granted compensation.
Gaudreault noted that reform is complicated — but necessary and long overdue.
“The program doesn’t take into account all the things that have changed, in the law, since 1972,” she said.
“Cyber intimidation didn’t exist then.… We are aware of so much more now, in terms of sexual assault and harassment, for example.”
Government committed to reform
The Quebec government has said it is reviewing the legislation governing IVAC.
Justice Minister Sonia LeBel agrees changes are necessary, according to Nicky Cayer, a spokesperson for the minister.
“Although it’s the most generous program throughout Canada, as an example, the list of crimes from which a victim can receive compensation hasn’t been updated much since its creation in 1971 and doesn’t reflect the evolution of criminality in the last 35 years,” she wrote in an email.
Gaudreault does applaud the province for the program, in comparison to Ontario. Significantly fewer crimes are included in the Ontario program, which Premier Doug Ford’s government said will be scrapped altogether.
On the other hand, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, the list of crimes has been updated and is more exhaustive.
Still, most provinces impose a time limit of one year to apply for compensation. In Quebec, a victim has two years from the crime to apply.
For Melissa, the news the government is considering reform is welcome, but she’s cautious in her optimism.
“I just want peace. I want to live; I want to live my life,” she said, sighing.
“How I had been living during that period of time, it feels like a waste. I’ve lost a lot, and I just really wanted my life back.”