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RE: Sometimes victims' rights clash with public safety

The OFOVC issued the following response to an editorial in the Globe and Mail published on Friday May 24, 2013:

The balance of rights between offenders and victims is an important conversation; we cannot have a healthy justice system without it, and for this reason I am always pleased to see public dialogue on the issue. That being said, there are a number of statements in Friday's article that, as Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, I believe need to be addressed.

First, the article characterizes a victim's right to make a statement as "a privilege, then a right, and now a burden" as though victims now begrudge the opportunity they fought for. The article fails to make the distinction between the emotional toll and impact of the crime from the opportunity for a victim to exercise their right to provide valuable information for consideration in justice decisions. Is it a difficult process? Of course it is. The process is emotionally draining and, according to some victims, can be frustrating in its own right with the various rules and requirements. But that does not mean that victims begrudge one of the few rights they have. The majority of the victims I hear from see the ability to present a statement as an important opportunity, and in some cases as necessary in order to represent those who, through senseless acts of violence, can no longer speak for themselves. The burden victims carry comes from the harms they have suffered and the emotional toll they undergo in having to relive the trauma of the crime in preparing their statements, not their right to speak to its impact.

Secondly, the article suggests that "victim's interests are not the same as society's". Again, I must disagree. For the most part, victims' interests lie in ensuring that what happened to them never happens to anyone else. They have an understanding of what it means to experience crime, and the last thing they want is for anyone else to suffer the same fate. In short, they want safe communities – just like the rest of society. And, like the rest of us, there are varying views on how that can best be accomplished. For some, tougher sentences mean safer communities, for others the priority is restorative justice programs or support to help offenders rehabilitate and become productive citizens. We cannot have productive dialogue about any of these issues by perpetuating the myth of the vengeful victim.

Finally, the article suggests that the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime "should be enough". Perhaps if Canada's laws, policies, programs, services and criminal justice personnel adhered to the Statement, it could be said that we had a system that fairly supports victims, however this is far from the reality. While this Statement was signed, it is neither enforceable nor – and most importantly – reflected in the treatment, consideration and rights of crime victims in Canada. In short, it is evidently not enough or we would no longer need to have these types of discussions. Clearly, we need more. We need enforceable rights and available services to ensure that victims are informed, that they are considered and protected, and that they are supported.

It is time that victims in Canada have at least the same rights to fair treatment and consideration as offenders. To this end I would suggest we stop focusing our energy on the "if" of victims rights and instead focus on the "when".

Sue O'Sullivan
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime