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The Victims Bill of Rights

On April 3, 2014, the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend Certain Acts, the “Victims Bill of Rights Act.
 
The Victims Bill of Rights marks a significant cultural shift in Canada’s legislative landscape towards more consideration and integration of victims in Canada’s criminal justice system.  By recognizing in law the import the role that victims have to play, and by moving to address their needs and concerns, the Government has taken an important step towards enhancing victims’ rights in Canada.
 
The Victims Bill of Rights contains a number of measures to improve the criminal justice system by providing victims of crime statutory rights to information, participation, protection and restitution as well as remedies. Yet many of the measures contained in the Bill could be strengthened to better address the challenges facing victims of crime. There also remain issues of importance to victims of crime that are not addressed by the Bill. With amendments, the Bill could give victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.
 

 

 

 

 

Recommendations

The recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime aim to further strengthen the treatment of victims in the Victims Bill of Rights, specifically their rights to be informed, heard and considered, protected and supported, and to ensure that these rights are respected. To strengthen the proposed Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (VBR), the participatory and service rights of victims will need to be enhanced and protected throughout the criminal justice process.
 
Participatory rights refer to victims’ rights to right to convey their views about decisions to be made by authorities in the criminal justice system that affect the victim’s rights and to have those views considered. These decisions may include sentencing, restitution, conditional releases and parole.  
 
Service rights for victims of crime refer the information and services that agencies in the criminal justice system are mandate to provide victims. This includes victims’ rights to receive information about the justice system, their role within it, and the services and programs available to them. 
 
The following recommendations focus on enforcement of rights in the Victims Bill of Rights as well as those rights that partially addressed the Ombudsman recommendations in her submission to the Department of Justice for the development of a Victims Bill of Rights and response to Bill C-32.

 

 

 

 

Participatory Rights

Service Rights

Enforcing Rights

Court Proceedings:
That victims have access to legal representation to address a court in order to exercise or enforce their rights under the Victims Bill of Rights.    

Pre-trial and post-conviction:
Identify an oversight body with statutory powers to investigate complaints within federal organizations related to breaches and to recommend remedies. 

Enhancing Rights

Plea Bargains:
That, in cases of serious personal injury offences or indictable offences with a maximum punishment of 5 years imprisonment or more, courts consider the views of victims before accepting plea bargains. 

Immigration Review Board Hearings:
That victims are permitted to attend Immigration Review Board Hearings and present a statement so that their views are considered in the decision on deporting an offender.

Parole Board Hearings:
That victims are granted the presumptive right to attend a parole hearing.

That victims are provided with options in attending and/or participating in a parole hearing.

That appropriate measures are established to protect the victim’s sense of safety when attending parole hearings, such as safe and separate waiting areas.

That offender release decisions be postponed to allow victims sufficient time to update their information and statements on file.   

Restitution: That a mechanism be put in place so that the victims are not responsible for collecting restitution amounts from offenders.

Definition of victim:
That the definition of who can act on behalf of a victim be extended to include partners who do not cohabitate with the victim and close friends of the victim. 

Rights to General Information:
That victims are automatically provided, at the time of crime, clear information about their rights under the Bill, what information they are entitled to receive, and who is responsible for providing it at what point. 

That victims receive information in the format of their choice, which takes into account their personal circumstances, including any disability that they may have. 

Not Criminally Responsible: That victims of an accused found not-criminally responsible have rights to the same information as victims of an offender in the corrections and conditional release system.

Victim Registration: That Correctional Service Canada and the Parole Board of Canada be able to proactively contact victims in order to provide information on their rights within the federal criminal justice system and the services available to them, including registration. 

Escorted Temporary Absences: That victims are provided access to a recent photo of the offender prior the offender being released on an escorted temporary absence. 

Parole Board Hearings: That victims have access to an audio recording of a parole board hearing even in cases where the victim has attended the hearing.