The Compassionate Justice Fund had been a vision for some time. However, during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020-2021, the disparities in access to health and rehabilitation services for people with traumatic brain injuries who are marginalized and vulnerable became increasingly apparent. The vision needed to become a reality. We needed to respond and help because we believe that everyone deserves access to proper care and rehabilitation support. Over a Zoom meeting in October 2020 between the founder and the Ontario Brain Injury Association, a partnership was established, and the commitment to making the vision a reality was born. The Compassionate Justice Fund was launched in 2021 to bridge a critical gap in funding for rehabilitation services for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Specifically, those who have suffered a TBI through means of violence, abuse, intimate partner violence, and those with TBI who have experienced unstable housing or homelessness, or criminal justice involvement. Please help us to help those who need it most.
— Our Mission
Our mission is to help those with a TBI who are vulnerable and do not have access to rehabilitation or support services, to improve their ability to live a full and meaningful life.
— Our Vision
— Who is eligible?
People who live in Ontario, age 16 or older, who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (including concussion) through means of violence, abuse, who are experiencing unstable housing, and/or have intersected with the mental health or criminal justice system, and do NOT have access to other funding for services. This does not need to be a recent injury.
— Who is not eligible?
People who do not live in Ontario and have reasonable access to rehabilitation and support services.
At this time we are not able to support people who are struggling with untreated substance use. We recognize this is a common challenge, however, we know this has a negative impact on rehabilitation success.
Do I need a formal diagnosis of TBI?
You do not need to have a formal diagnosis of TBI from a doctor in order to be eligible for the fund. We recognize that many traumatic brain injuries are undiagnosed. However, you will need a clinician or caseworker to state that they believe you’ve had a TBI, OR, we may ask you some questions using the HELPS TBI Screening Questionnaire.
The aim of this fund
The aim of this fund is to provide financial support and resources for individuals with brain injuries, specifically the marginalized and vulnerable. Anyone can apply to the fund either individually or by a member of their support team (i.e., caseworkers, probation officers, etc.) on a case-by-case application to help pay for rehabilitation services such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychological counselling etc. We are also developing a roster of brain injury clinicians who are willing to pro-rate or donate their services.
TBI, Concussion/mTBI in Vulnerable Populations;
(Criminal justice system, victims of assault, intimate partner/domestic violence,
homeless or unstably housed)
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is more prevalent than breast cancer, HIV-Aids, and Multiple Sclerosis combined. It is the leading case of disability among people under the age of 40 worldwide. However, it does not receive the same amount of recognition or funding. Sadly, TBI is also highly prevalent among jail and prison inmates, people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system, survivors of intimate partner violence, and people who are unstably housed or homeless.
As a teenager, Isaac (not his real name) was an A student and a high level hockey player. Isaac was smaller than most players, but he was fast and was an effective goal scorer. This made him a threat to the other teams who would actively target Isaac, repeatedly checking him into the boards. Because Isaac was shorter than the other players, instead of his shoulder hitting the boards, it was his head; over and over again. Routinely he reported seeing stars, feeling dizzy, and he couldn’t remember what happened, but he just kept on playing.
What is traumatic brain injury?
TBI refers to a blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury, which disrupts the function of the brain either temporarily or permanently (CDC Brainline.org). TBI falls under the umbrella of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). ABI includes TBI and non-traumatic brain injuries such as stroke, aneurysm, and anoxia.
A concussion is a TBI defined as a traumatically induced temporary disturbance of brain function. Current evidence suggests that long-term alterations in brain function are associated with concussion in some individuals. A concussion can occur, and often does, without a loss of consciousness. The effect of multiple concussions is cumulative and can cause serious long-term consequences in some individuals.
A person does not need to hit their head for a TBI of any severity to occur. Moreover, those with a history of TBI, including concussion, are at a higher risk of sustaining another concussion. Also, a history of multiple TBIs is associated with slower recovery and more complications. Common causes of TBI include falls, motor vehicle collisions, assaults and domestic violence, and sports injuries.
How does TBI affect people?
A TBI that happens during childhood can often lead to long term developmental challenges, especially in the area of social ‘intelligence’ and social communication. These challenges can lead to poor school performance, early school leaving, disengagement, and mental health challenges. TBI often results in problems with attention, memory, headaches, difficulty following and responding in conversation, poor sleep, behavior changes, and self-regulation. These changes can make it challenging to stay in school, hold down a job, and maintain relationships. It can be hard to pay the rent and bills and access services when you cannot keep a job. As a result, many become unstably housed or homeless. With no resources to help improve their condition, many people turn to substances or get caught up in petty criminal activities by default.
TBI and the Criminal Justice System
Research data on the prevalence of TBI within the criminal justice system varies across studies however, it suggests that approximately 80% of adults in the criminal justice system have a history of TBI. Recent Ontario research identified that a sample of adults with history of TBI and criminal justice system involvement had sustained an average of 3.5 TBI’s (range 1-9) with the majority of TBI’s occurring prior to adulthood and before their first interaction with the legal system (Magor, Wiseman-Hakes et al., 2021). Some had moderate-severe injuries, but more often, these injuries were ‘mild by definition, but severe by functional implication and consequence.’ For youth, the rate is estimated as being up to 72% (Hughes et al., 2015), however 100% of youth who have been sentenced to death have a history of TBI (Hughes et al., 2015).
TBI can also result in people being vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Cognitive challenges associated with the injury and a desire for friendship may result in the person being coerced to engage in criminal activity without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. They may have difficulty reading where the other person is coming from and can be taken advantage of. ‘James’ (not his real name) who had a severe brain injury as a child stated that his involvement in the legal system happened in part because “I started hanging out with some ‘shady, not so good’ people”. I wanted to be liked and I know they took advantage of my brain damage”.
Did you know?
men and women who sustained a TBI were about 2.5X more likely to be incarcerated than men and women who had not sustained a TBI (McIsaac et al., 2016).
indicate that people with TBI are 14X more likely to incur a serious charge and 12X less likely to achieve discretionary release (McIsaac et al., 2016).
Intimate Partner Violence: a pandemic within the COVID-19 Pandemic
Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, 1 in 4 women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Furthermore, this violence has a disproportionate effect on communities of colour and other marginalized groups. Since the onset of the pandemic, these numbers have risen dramatically as many IPV victims are trapped at home with their abusers (Evans et al., 2020. A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19). Although there is increasing awareness of the high prevalence of concussions and anoxia from attempted strangulation, most of these women have no idea they have a brain injury and will have no access to rehabilitation supports (Haag 2018; Valera 2010, 2018).
Greater than 50%
of Toronto’s homeless and vulnerably housed populations have a history of brain injury, concussion, or repeat hits to the head (Hwang, 2009). In Vancouver, the numbers are 69% and in Ottawa, 64% (The Lancet 2020).
and Parole officers
need help in supporting their clients with history of brain injury because there are no publicly available rehabilitation services to help these individuals (Wiseman-Hakes & Turkstra ONF report 2020). As well, the challenges associated with a brain injury are often misinterpreted as defiance, or non-compliance (Snow 2019).
Outcomes are helped by rehabilitation support
including case management, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, counselling, physiotherapy, as well as education about concussions/brain injuries and how to self-manage and how to access resources. In the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., this has been shown to help break the cycle of recidivism which is highly prevalent in this population.
These individuals could easily be our children, neighbours, teammates, colleagues, and friends.
Through circumstances beyond their control, these are good people who have and continue to experience great hardship, and their brain injuries play a significant role in these difficulties. The Ontario Brain Injury Association and Brain Injury Canada receive numerous calls from former inmates, people involved in the criminal justice system, and survivors of intimate partner violence for help, demonstrating the immense need for support.
Founder and Director
Catherine is a speech-language pathologist and clinical neuroscientist who has devoted her clinical and research career toward a better understanding of the factors which impact recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI), as well as developing interventions to support positive outcomes and quality of life. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor (adjunct) of Speech-Language Pathology, in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University in Hamilton, and an Affiliate Scientist with the Hull Ellis Concussion and Research Clinic and KITE- University Health Network, Toronto Rehab Institute. She is currently conducting research to support youth and adults with TBI who intersect with the criminal justice system, and collaborating with colleagues to support women survivors of intimate partner violence with TBI. She also conducts research on the role of sleep disturbance and recovery from TBI. She has authored and co-authored numerous research publications, provincial and international practice guidelines, and a book chapter on paediatric brain injury. She is honoured to partner with the Ontario Brain Injury Association and like-minded colleagues who are committed to social justice and making a difference in our communities. Catherine is the founder of the Compassionate Justice Fund.
Volunteer Coordinator of Communications
Mike earned his Bachelor of Science at Queen’s University specializing in neuroscience, and is a recent graduate of the Master of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences at McMaster University where he studied how concussion affects sleep quality in children and adolescents. He has been involved with several organizations and projects to educate the public about concussion safety and injury management, aiming to reduce the incidence and long-term effects of concussion in the community. As an athlete, Mike has many personal experiences with concussion suffered from hockey, rugby, and dirt biking. Mike is happy to be working with such caring people for an amazing cause and hopes to make an important difference in the lives of people who are often overlooked and suffer in silence.,
Matthew is the principal barrister at Eaton-Kent Law and focuses on criminal defence trials and appeals, as well as panel work for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. His practice is located mainly in Southern Ontario and Nunavut. In conjunction with his practice, Matthew was also formerly the Resource (Policy) Coordinator for the Cross-over Youth Project, a judicial reform pilot project at Ryerson University, funded by the Canadian Federal Department of Justice focused on reducing adult recidivism by youth with involvement in the child welfare and youth criminal justice system. He also presents and leads seminars on youth justice and child’s rights both in Canada and internationally, including in the UK, Armenia and Turkey. Matthew does additional policy work including consulting on judicial reform initiatives for the Traumatic Brain Injury Youth Justice Project at McMaster University (funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation), and the Brain Injury Society of Toronto.
Katie has been working in the criminal justice system for 36 years, 32 of which have been as a Probation and Parole Officer with the Ministry of the Solicitor General. For 19 years, she has worked with a client population that is marked by poverty, homelessness, mental illness, physical and developmental disabilities, and polysubstance use.
During the course of her career, she has been involved in the development of extensive community networks and collaborative initiatives. She is the Co-Chair of both the Downtown Toronto, and Provincial Human Services and Justice Co-ordinating Committees. In addition, she is a member of member of the Board of Sound Times Support Services; CMHA Toronto; the Community Justice Court Initiative Committee (with MAG); the Discharge from Court/Red Envelope Committee; the Client Mental Health Strategy/P&P committee; the CAMH Constituency Council; the Advisory Committee for the Criminal Justice and Developmental Disabilities Project; and the Acquired Brain Injury and Mental Health Advisory Committee; and a number of research projects examining the impact of COVID-19 on correctional clients.
Katie holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology (Honours) and a Master’s Degree in Education. Ms. Almond is a person with lived mental health experience, who is committed to effecting positive change for her clients, and colleagues.
Ruth has worked in the community services field for over 30 years. She is the Executive Director of the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) and has been with the organization since 2004. Prior to joining OBIA, Ruth served for 13 years as the Executive Director of a long-term residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Ruth is also a Registered Psychotherapist. Ruth has and continues to serve on numerous committees for special projects and research by representing the needs and concerns of those living with acquired brain injury.
Lauren has been working in the disability field for 7 years. Her role at OBIA is Community Outreach and Assistant to the Executive Director. Lauren is very passionate about raising awareness about brain injury and improving the quality of care received by those recovering from an acquired brain injury. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Applied Disability Studies at Brock University.
Priscilla Amoah is a Global Health Advocate, working towards ending systemic victimization and violence against under-served communities by targeting policy reform and promoting education and awareness around health equity. Her experience focuses on complex trauma, the intersections of IPV and TBI in women, and supporting and advocating on behalf of survivors experiencing homelessness. Presently, Priscilla is the Co-Founder and Co – Chair of WomenatthecentrE’s York University Chapter, a non- profit survivor-led organization working to eradicate gender-based violence. WomenatthecentrE delivers peer support, conducts community based participatory research, and offers policy recommendations to government and non government organizations. Priscilla’s life’s work is dedicated to empowering and restoring the quality of life amongst survivors so that they may live to be their truest and happiest selves.
Alexander Jordan Mongkonrob
Alexander holds a BA and B.Ed, in education as a person with lived experience of ABI. He is compassionate and determined to advocate for all persons with invisible disabilities and brain injury. Alexander presented to the Toronto police MCIT unit numerous times, educating proper intervention training in helping persons with disabilities and mental health. He also provided his own patent soothing tool tactile kit for frontline workers to use while aiding persons in emotional distress. Alexander is honored to be part of the compassionate Justice committee so he can further continue his educational training to those who can gain from it.
In Memoriam: Carol DiSalle
Carol DiSalle was an inaugural and dedicated member of the Compassionate Justice Fund Steering Committee who was fuelled by a passion for helping those with brain injury, and a desire to improve care for all. She was a highly experienced speech language pathologist who worked in the field of brain injury rehabilitation across her career that spanned over 20 years. Based in Sudbury, Carol was the Health Sciences North Regional ABI Clinician and her knowledge of services and her advocacy were invaluable in our quest to support CJ Fund recipients from Northern Ontario. She brought her extensive clinical and systems knowledge to numerous regional and provincial ABI committees and initiatives. On a personal level, Carol was a beloved colleague and friend who touched all who knew her. She is deeply missed.
Carol Di Salle
Carol works at Health Sciences North in Sudbury as the Regional ABI Resource Clinician. She is a dedicated Speech-Language Pathologist with over 20 years’ experience in the field of acquired brain injury rehabilitation. Fuelled by a passion for helping people with brain injury and a desire to improve care for all, Carol brings her extensive clinical and systems knowledge to numerous regional and provincial ABI and rehabilitative care committees, expert panels, research collaborations and improvement initiatives.