The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) is an independent resource for victims of crime in Canada and was created in 2007 to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims. On June 12, 2013, the Minister of Justice tabled the OFOVC's 2011-2012 Annual Report in Parliament. The report provides an overview of the Office's recommendations, key achievements and activities for this reporting year.
A voice for victims
In 2011-2012, the OFOVC continued to work hard to assist victims directly by answering their calls and addressing their complaints. The Office also worked diligently to help victims collectively by tracking trends and issues and making recommendations for change to the federal government.
As part of this work, the Office released its third special report in February entitled Shifting the Conversation: A look at refocusing Canada's justice system to better meet the needs of victims of crime. The report highlights three key areas where straightforward, practical changes would result in enhanced victims' rights and treatment within the criminal justice system. These include: victims' need for more information about their rights and the offender who harmed them; the importance of ensuring victims can participate more meaningfully in the criminal justice process; and the need for increased tangible supports for victims of crime.
The OFOVC was pleased to see a number of the recommendations included in Part 3 of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which received royal assent on March 13, 2012.
The Annual Report also highlights recommendations made by the Ombudsman throughout the year, including:
- Improving the efficiency of large and complex trials
- The OFOVC provided a written submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to outline support for the passage of the Bill C-2 (the Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act) aimed at expediting large-scale criminal trials. The Ombudsman supported its passage on the basis that the emotional toll on victims of all trials, but especially
"mega-trials"that results in significant delays, was significant and should, as much as possible, be avoided. Bill C-2 received royal assent on June 26, 2011.
- Enhancing consideration of victims where offenders are
- The Ombudsman wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice outlining several recommended changes to section 16 of the Criminal Code, with the overall goal of responding better to victims' needs and improving public safety in cases where an accused is found not criminally responsible. Subsequently, the OFOVC received a letter of response from Minister Nicholson stating that work was, at that time, underway at the federal-provincial-territorial level to examine principles of public safety in decisions made by review boards. The OFOVC continues to monitor this issue.
- Considering victims' needs while attending parole hearings
- Based on a complaint received from a victim who felt uncomfortable being seen and in close proximity to the offender who harmed them at a parole hearing, the OFOVC made a recommendation that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) review the measures in place and consider what measures could be taken to improve the experience of victims at future hearings. In response, the OFOVC received a letter of response from the PBC Chairperson which stated that they are in contact with CSC in order to explore ways in which measures can be implemented to improve processes at hearings.
- More information for victims about elder-assisted hearings
- Based on a complaint received from a victim who felt they were unprepared for the different roles and procedures of an Elder-assisted hearing, the OFOVC reviewed the PBC's existing policy and public fact sheets on Elder-assisted hearings. Further to its review, the OFOVC recommended that the PBC
"increase the level and detail of information for victims related to PBC Elder-assisted hearings."In response, the PBC committed to developing a new fact sheet to provide victims with more detailed information about these types of hearings.
- Notifying victims of the deportation status of federal offenders
- Several victims have contacted the OFOVC with regards to not having adequate information about whether the offender who harmed them has been removed from the country, is being detained by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or is living unsupervised in Canada. The Ombudsman met with CBSA officials to discuss victims' needs for information and recommended that victims be given the right to stay informed of an offender's deportation status once in the custody of CBSA. As a response, the OFOVC had been advised that CBSA continues to examine the feasibility of providing registered victims with information on the detention and removal of federal offenders.
Overall, in addition to its recommendations, the OFOVC continues to be an effective voice for victims through its outreach and operations. Throughout the year, the OFOVC actively sought opportunities to engage stakeholders and Canadians and saw once again an increase in visits to its website. Data-tracking has been significantly improved and the Office continues to work with the media to increase awareness of its role and services. These activities will continue to be integral to the Office's ability to bring about positive change in Canada for victims of crime moving forward.