Backgrounder: Canada’s Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime Issues Response to the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights
On May 13, 2014 Canada’s Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime released her response to the recently tabled Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (VBR).
In her response, the Ombudsman shares her view that the VBR marks a significant cultural shift in Canada’s legislative landscape towards a system that more fully considers and integrates victims in Canada’s criminal justice system, but cautions that the Bill could and should be strengthened to better meet the needs and concerns of victims of crime.
The document speaks to the benefits of the Bill, including the fact that for the first time Canada now has a legislative cornerstone from which to continue moving forward in enhancing victims’ right. At the same time, the Ombudsman notes that of the nearly 30 recommendations her Office made to the Government of Canada for inclusion in its Bill, only four have been fully addressed and another ten recommendations have been partially addressed, leaving room for improvement.
Included in the full response paper is discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various elements of the Bill. A synopsis of some of those elements is included below.
Under the VBR victims will be given:
- information about the investigation and proceedings and certain information about an offender or accused, upon request;
- access to an offender’s bail and/or probation order, upon request.
- access to a recent photograph of the offender prior to conditional release; and
- automatic access to the Parole Board of Canada’s (PBC) Decision Registry.
- The definition of who can act on behalf of a victim is restrictive in that it does not account for partners who do not live in a conjugal relationship with the victim or close friends, in cases where a victim may be disconnected from family.
- While the VBR does provide for enhanced information-sharing, it does not outline the responsibilities for this in specific terms. Without this, there is a risk that agencies may fail to provide certain information to victims, as required. Outlining specific responsibilities would also serve to clarify for victims who to contact in order to request specific information, if required.
- Similarly, the VBR does not address the fact that most victims are not aware of the need to register with the PBC or the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in order to receive information about the offender who harmed them. While informing victims of this obligation early on the process could be beneficial, most often victims find that when they are overwhelmed or in the early stages of the aftermath of a crime they will not properly absorb or retain this type of information. As such, the system should endeavour to provide the authority and opportunity for the appropriate departments and resources to proactively reach out to victims at a more opportune time in order to inform or remind them of their rights and to facilitate their registration, should the victim choose to register.
- The provision of access to a photo of the offender does not apply in the case of escorted temporary absences.
Considering and protecting victims
- The VBR provides a mandatory, standardized form to help victims fill out a “Victim Impact Statement” that will be presented in court. Providing victims with this form helps to ensure their statements reflect the full spectrum of how the crime has affected their lives and ensures more national consistency.
- Under the proposed legislation, judges must consider the safety and security of the victim before bail.
- The VBR introduces the requirement for the PBC to explain, in writing, why it has not imposed a non-communication order or geographical restriction in cases where a victim has expressed safety concerns or stated that they do not wish to have contact with the offender.
- The VBR allows certain victims to be informed of a plea bargain, but it does not allow for victims to have input before a plea is accepted.
- The proposed legislation does not address a victims’ need for choice and options in attending/participating in a parole hearing (i.e. via teleconference, video-conference, closed-circuit video, etc).
- The effectiveness of proposed enforcement regime of complaint resolution systems remains to be seen.
- While the VBR permits a victim to be notified once an offender is deported from Canada before the expiration of their sentence, it does not permit a victim to submit and/or present a statement at Immigration Review Board hearings.
- Judges are now required to consider making a restitution order in all cases.
- Under the VBR, victims who are still owed monies may enter as a judgement any amount ordered to be paid that remains unpaid under the order in any civil court in Canada. This still puts the onus on the victim to take steps to collect the money owed to them rather than have the authorities obtain the funds. Victims should not have to go to civil court to enforce a restitution order. Restitution is part of the offender’s sentence, and structures should be in place to ensure those orders are enforced.
For more information, or to view the Ombudsman’s full response, news release and more, please visit: www.victimsfirst.gc.ca