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Supporting Victims of Gender-based Violence in the Criminal Justice System

Heard. Respected. Victims First.

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Contents

  • The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

    The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) is an independent resource for victims in Canada. It was created in 2007 to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime.

     

    Our mandate relates exclusively to matters of federal jurisdiction and enables us to:

    • promote access by victims to existing federal programs and services for victims;
    • address complaints of victims about compliance with the provisions of the

    Corrections and Conditional Release Act that apply to victims of crimes committed by offenders under federal jurisdiction;

    • promote awareness of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime, including to promote the principles set out in the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime with respect to matters of federal jurisdiction, among criminal justice personnel and policy makers;
    • identify and review emerging and systemic issues, including those issues related to programs and services provided or administered by the Department of Justice Canada or the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, that impact negatively on victims of crime; and
    • facilitate access by victims to existing federal programs and services by providing them with information and referrals.

     

    We are also involved in ongoing discussions with the Government about our mandate in relation to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). The CVBR gives registered victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system, and provides statutory rights for victims with respect to information, protection, participation, and restitution. Furthermore, victims who believe that any of their rights under the CVBR have been infringed or denied by a federal entity have the right to file a complaint with its complaint mechanism.

     

    An important part of the OFOVC’s work is to amplify the voice of victims of crime in Canada. This includes ensuring that victims are informed, considered, protected, and supported along the criminal justice system (CJS) continuum, and when the federal government is developing or updating its laws, policies, and programs.

     

    Supported by an Advisory Council, Status of Women Canada is currently leading on the development of a federal strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence (GBV). The OFOVC welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the strategy.

  • Introduction

    At the outset, the OFOVC would like to acknowledge that a federal strategy against GBV will necessarily require a comprehensive, coordinated, and multi-faceted approach. Actions will need to be undertaken across several strategic policy areas, such as: criminal and family law; immigration; health and mental health; employment and income; housing; education; and research and statistics. A federal strategy against GBV will also require federal investments and leadership to ensure availability of evidence-based, trauma- and victim-informed supports for victims and survivors. Such supports are needed to help victims of crime themselves, but will ultimately also benefit communities. As well, achieving the longer-term vision of eradicating GBV will require robust initiatives to strengthen prevention and public education in order to ensure that GBV does not occur in the first place.

    While the OFOVC recommends that a federal strategy against GBV be comprehensive in scope, the OFOVC’s input for the development of the strategy will focus on areas related to our mandate and expertise: namely, ensuring that the needs of victims of crime are met throughout the CJS.  

    Federal leadership in this realm means addressing gaps within federal legislation, policies, and programs so that victims of GBV, as well other victims of crime, are informed, considered, pro­tected, and supported throughout their journey, from the time of crime through any experiences with the CJS and over the longer term.

    Figure 1: Supporting victims along the CJS continuum

    Supporting victims along the CJS continuum

    Although the OFOVC has a mandate pertaining to victims of crime, broadly, we recognize GBV as a serious form of gender inequality, and as a barrier to public, social, economic and political participation. GBV has long-lasting effects on many social and economic institutions such as health and social services, the labour market, and the CJS.1 The consequences of GBV can be felt across years and even generations.

    Many victims of GBV face enduring physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, 2 and/or spiritual impacts. However, impacts can be magnified for those who are already marginalized within the larger societal context. Holistic and culturally relevant responses must be available to address the rights and needs of women with disabilities, senior women, immigrant and refugee women, Indigenous women and girls, and the LGBTTQQI2S3 community. From that perspective, a federal strategy must be responsive to intersectionality.

    While the specific needs of each victim of GBV will be unique to the circumstances of the individual and of their victimization, standards/guidelines need to be in place at a national level to protect the basic rights and needs of victims and survivors of GBV. It is the OFOVC’s position that these basic rights and needs should be kept top of mind in developing and implementing an effective federal strategy to eliminate GBV. As such, this submission presents recommendations aimed at addressing gaps and strengthening GBV victims’ rights within the CJS, including in relation to the military and immigration systems. Furthermore, given the OFOVC’s mandate to identify and review emerging issues for victims of crime, our submission will also highlight three specific current issues relevant to GBV victims. These include: cyberviolence; restorative justice; and publication bans in sexual assault cases. Finally, our submission will address the overarching, broader need for solutions in three key “building block” areas: statistics and data; education, training, and awareness; and victim-centred supports.

    1 Estimating the Costs of Gender-based Violence in the European Union. European Institute for Gender Equality. 2014.

    2 For example, a 2013 report by the Department of Justice Canada estimated that nearly 83 percent of the costs associated with crime in 2008 were borne by victims. These costs included tangible costs such as lost productivity and wages, and costs of medical care, as well as intangible costs such as pain and suffering.

    3 Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersexual, 2-spirited.

  • Enhanced Rights of GBV Victims in the CJS

    While the federal strategy against GBV is not a criminal justice process, some of the strategy’s resulting initiatives and/or recommendations may lend themselves to criminal justice reform. As such, the rights and protections provided for victims in the CVBR should be considered, where applicable.

  • The CBVR

    The CVBR, which came into force on July 23, 20154 , provides victims of crime in Canada with the following statutory rights:

    • Right to Information – Victims have a right to request general information about the CJS and available victim services and programs, including the right to be informed about restorative justice programs. They also have the right to request specific information relating to the investigation, prosecution, sentencing, and conditional release of the person(s) who harmed them.
    • Right to Protection – Victims have a right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages of the CJS, and for reasonable and necessary measures to be taken to protect them from intimidation and retaliation. As well, they have the right to request that their identity be protected from public disclosure, and to request to use testimonial aids when appearing as a witness.
    • Right to Participation – Victims have a right to convey their views about decisions to be made that affect their rights under the CVBR, and to have their rights considered at various stages of the criminal justice process. Victims also have a right to present a victim impact statement, and to have it considered.
    • Right to seek Restitution – Victims have a right to have the court consider making a restitution order against the offender. As well, every victim with a restitution order has the right, if they are not paid, to have the order entered as a civil court judgment that is enforceable against the offender.

     

    Any victim who is of the opinion that any of their rights under the CVBR have been infringed or denied by a federal department/agency also has the right to file a complaint in accordance with the federal entity’s complaints mechanism. Further, any victim who has exhausted his or her recourse under the complaints mechanism, and who is dissatisfied with the outcome, may file a complaint with any authority that has jurisdiction to review complaints in relation to that federal entity, such as the OFOVC.

    4 The Victims Bill of Rights: An Act to Enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to Amend Certain Acts created the legislative recognition of victims’ rights and made amendments to the Criminal Code, Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Canada Evidence Act, and Employment Insurance Act. While most of the provisions came into force on July 23, 2015, others were implemented more recently, on June 1, 2016.  http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/412/Government/C-32/C-32_4/C-32_4.PDF

  • Addressing Gaps and Further Strengthening Victims’ Rights in a Post-CVBR Context

    Enactment of the CVBR marked a significant and positive step for victims of crime in Canada. Moving forward, equally important is ensuring that: victims are able to access and exercise their rights; the legislation is being implemented in a way that honours its intent; and outstanding gaps are identified and addressed.
    The OFOVC’s role includes making recommendations on ways that the federal government can further strengthen victims’ rights in order to better support victims of crime. Following are recommendations that may prove relevant to the development of a comprehensive federal GBV strategy as they could, if implemented, generate positive changes for victims and survivors of GBV.

  • Right to Information

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 1: Victims should receive clear, comprehensive information about their rights within the criminal justice system.

     

    The CVBR provides victims with the right, upon request, to receive various types of information, including, for example, information about the CJS and the role of victims in it, and the services and programs available to them as a victim. However, the CVBR does not assign specific responsibilities to agencies within the CJS to automatically inform victims of their rights. As a result, it is not clear who is responsible for providing what information and when it is to be provided. In order to ensure that victims receive the information to which they are entitled, it is important that the key authorities in the CJS understand their specific roles and responsibilities in this regard. Without this, there is a risk that victims will not receive the information they need.

     

    Access to information is of particular importance for victims of GBV given the experiences of fear, intimidation, and sometimes retaliation that many victims of GBV report. Lack of information regarding the criminal justice process and victims’ rights can heighten victims’ anxiety, impede them from fully exercising their rights or from making informed choices, reduce their overall confidence in the CJS, and/or deter them from pursuing charges, particularly in cases where the victim has safety concerns.5

     

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 2: Victims should have the right to a review of a decision not to prosecute

     

    Victims often struggle when a decision is made not to pursue prosecution for a crime committed against them. Currently, GBV victims, as with all victims of crime in Canada, do not have the opportunity to review a decision not to prosecute a case. In contrast, the European Union (EU) Victims’ Rights Directive provides victims in the EU the right to such a review. Other jurisdictions around the world have pro-arrest and pro-prosecution policies in cases of violence against women whereby police and Crown attorneys must pursue criminal proceedings when there is probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred.6 This ensures that violence against women is handled seriously by criminal justice authorities but affords victims the agency to decide if they want to pursue charges against the person who harmed them.

    5 United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women. United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. 2010.

    6 Ibid.

     

  • Right to Protection

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 3: Victims’ employment status should be protected in the immediate aftermath of a crime and during court proceedings.

    In Canada, a Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children (PMMC) grant was launched in 2013. The grant provides temporary income support, up to 35 weeks, for eligible parents who leave work to deal with the death or disappearance of their child(ren) aged 18 years and under, as a result of a probable Criminal Code offence. Through the coming into force of the Families in Need Act, the federal government also provides job protection for eligible parents employed under federal jurisdiction who are faced with the same tragic circumstances. Up to 52 weeks of leave protection is available in cases involving a child who has disappeared, and up to 104 weeks is provided with respect to a child who has died.

    While such measures are a step in the right direction, they do not address the realities of many victims of crime. As such, the OFOVC has recommended to the federal government that the provisions for leave and income support should be more inclusive and broader in their eligibility and reach. In order to recognize the impact of other types of victimization, all victims of crime should be afforded employment protection and income support rights. To that end, the OFOVC has proposed options7 such as the creation of a separate employment insurance (EI) category for victims of crime, with an accompanying federal income support benefit.8

    With respect to GBV, the available studies help to illustrate its impacts on both employees and employers in Canada. For example, a 2014 survey estimated that, among Canadians who reported experiencing domestic violence, nearly 82 percent said it affected their work performance in a negative way, 38 percent said it impacted their ability to get to their jobs, and 9 percent said they had lost a job because of it.9 A report by the Department of Justice Canada estimated the economic impact of spousal violence in 2009 to amount to nearly $21 million in lost wages for its female victims. Losses for employers related to spousal violence against women amounted to nearly $52 million the same year.10

    Efforts to recognize the employment impacts on victims of GBV appear to be
    gaining some traction at the provincial/territorial level in Canada. For example, the Government of Manitoba recently passed legislation affording victims of domestic violence the right the take leave from work, including five days of paid leave. Similarly, a private member’s bill has been introduced in Ontario, which would provide leave to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, in addition to allowing for workplace accommodations such as reduced hours. In the international realm, through its National Employment Standards11 , Australia provides the right for eligible employees who are experiencing domestic violence, or providing care or support for a family or household member experiencing domestic violence, to request flexible working arrangements. As well, an increasing number of collective agreements in Australia include paid leave and other workplace provisions for employees experiencing domestic violence. As of March 2016, 1,234 union agreements contained a domestic and family violence clause, covering 1,004,720 workers.12

    Employment and financial stability are key to helping victims move forward. It is the OFOVC’s position that the Government of Canada must demonstrate leadership in protecting victims’ employment. Such action would give recognition to the fact that GBV and other forms of victimization have significant impacts, and can additionally require time off work in relation to healing, managing stress, and participating in the CJS.


    7 See, e.g., Evidence, Ms. Susan O'Sullivan’s, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, appearance before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, October 23, 2012. Accessed September 2, 2016 from http://www.parl.gc.ca/
    HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=e&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5775095
    .

    8 The OFOVC is currently working on a systemic review of the PMMC grant which will further outline our position.

    9 Wathen, C.N., MacGregor, J.C.D., MacQuarrie, B.J. with the Canadian Labour Congress. (2014). Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t? Initial Findings of a Pan-Canadian Survey on Domestic Violence and the Workplace. London, ON: Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children.

    10 Zhang, T., Hoddenbagh, J., McDonald, S. and Scrim, K. (2012). An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.

    11 The National Employment Standards (NES) are 10 minimum employment entitlements that have to be provided to all employees. Information accessed September 7, 2016 from https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/flexibility-in-the-workplace/flexible-working-arrangements.

    12 Domestic violence and the workplace. University of Sydney, Women & Work Research Group. Accessed September 7, 2016 from http://sydney.edu.au/business/research/wwrg/current_debates/
    domestic_violence_and_the_workplace
    .

     

  • Right to Participation

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 4: Victims should have the right to a speedy trial and to a prompt and final conclusion of the case.

    Lengthy court delays have significant consequences for victims of crime. The OFOVC has heard directly from victims about the impacts of CJS delays on their lives, including: emotional and psychological burdens as a result of ongoing unresolved criminal trials; anxiety about their role in the trial process, including testifying as a witness; and the financial burden from lost wages, child or elder care, and travel costs. Many victims have also shared feeling re-victimized by delays in criminal proceedings; they report feeling devalued and that their life is on hold until their case is concluded. Impacts can be compounded the longer the trial goes on. In some circumstances, victims’ access to justice can be completely compromised when charges are stayed as a result of unreasonable delay.

    In January 2016, the Senate of Canada authorized the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to undertake a study on delays in Canada’s CJS and to review the roles of the Government of Canada and Parliament in addressing such delays.13 In remarks to the Committee on March 24, 2016, the OFOVC recommended that more work be done to enhance victims’ access to justice by addressing delays. Suggested options included to increase efficiencies by enhancing victims’ access to support services that would help them to navigate the CJS, and by enhancing use of technology.14 To that end, promising initiatives implemented in other jurisdictions could be explored.

    For example, in England and Wales, the No Witness, No Justice program improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the CJS by enhancing levels of support and information given to victims and witnesses. Witness care units  bringing together police and Crown prosecuting services offer a single point of contact for victims and witnesses, providing support and information post-charge and through to the conclusion of the case. Needs assessments are conducted for all victims and witnesses at an early stage in order to proactively identify specific support requirements in relation to child care, transportation, language, health, and other issues, as well as areas of concern, including safety concerns. This process helps to identify victims who are vulnerable; for example, those who have experienced repeat victimization, victims of domestic abuse or a sexual offence, and victims in cases with a homophobic or transphobic element.15 Witness care unit officers: help individuals navigate through the CJS; coordinate support services; undertake continuous review of victim and witness needs throughout the case; and communicate with witnesses about cases, including to inform them of case outcomes or trial results. An early independent evaluation of No Witness, No Justice found that: witness court attendance increased approximately 20 percent; there was a decrease in court adjournments due to witness complications; and fewer witnesses decided to withdraw their statement.16
    There are also technology-based tools which can help enhance victim participation in the CJS and decrease delays.17 Currently, in Canada, victims who have registered with the Correctional Service Canada or the Parole Board of Canada can receive information about the offender who harmed them, in relation to federal corrections and parole, via an online Victims Portal launched in June 2016. While this is a promising development, information could be made available at earlier points in the CJS. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Justice operates an online service tool for victims. The TrackMyCrime website provides victims with online access to track the progress of the investigation pertaining to their crime. It has proven to be a faster and more efficient way for police to communicate with victims given that TrackMyCrime sends information via text message or email as soon as it is inputted into the police computer system.18

    In its August 2016 interim report on delays in the CJS, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs noted that it was “particularly concerned about the effect that lengthy trials have on the people involved,” including “the added stress and worry for victims.”19 The Committee further noted that, during its hearings, “several witnesses underscored that if one thing would help reduce the feelings of re-victimization that victims frequently experience during criminal proceedings, it would be to reduce delays.”20 Among the report’s recommendations were that the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories, as well as with the judiciary, to examine and implement best practices, including to make suitable technology available.

    The OFOVC urges the federal government to take leadership in this area. With respect to GBV victims, CJS delays can increase the risk to the victim for retaliation or intimidation, particularly if the accused is known to the victim and is not in police custody pending or during trial.  To that end, jurisdictions such as Spain, South Africa and the United Kingdom have put in place special court procedures in order to expedite cases involving violence against women.20

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 5: Victims should have access to free legal representation in order to be fully informed of their participatory rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, and to be able to address the court to exercise or enforce them, should they wish to do so.

    The CVBR gives victims the right to convey their views about decisions to be made by appropriate authorities in the CJS that affect the victim’s rights, and to have those views considered. Victims are currently able to have their views heard and considered through the presentation of a victim impact statement, by having the court consider a restitution order against the offender, and by having their safety concerns considered at a bail hearing. A victim can also seek a publication ban by bringing an application in writing before the court.
    However, victims are not currently provided with free legal representation to explain their rights and/or to address the court in order to exercise a participatory right or address a breach of an enumerated right. In order for victims to exercise and enforce their participatory rights in criminal proceedings, they should be provided with free legal representation to do so.

    Providing access to free legal representation would not mean that victims have “party status” but rather that victims would have “limited standing” to address the court on matters directly related to their statutory rights. While some may argue that this would delay the courts and hinder the process of a fair and equitable trial, the OFOVC has found no evidence of this in other jurisdictions where victims have access to legal representation to address the courts, as is the case in several U.S. states, and in Norway.

    Courts have been very clear that a Crown Attorney acts in the public interest and is not counsel for the victim. Providing victims with a mechanism to address the court would help ensure that the process fairly considers and protects victims. Treating victims fairly and ensuring their meaningful participation is critical to increasing public confidence in the CJS, and improving the system’s overall effectiveness.

    The Government of Ontario is currently undertaking an Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program, which provides sexual assault victims living in Toronto, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay with up to four hours of free legal advice to help them make informed decisions about next steps.21 The initiative is a key commitment of the Province's Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. While legal information is provided, the lawyers cannot speak for the victims in court.

    It is the OFOVC’s perspective that a national program providing access to free legal representation so that victims can understand, exercise and/or enforce their participatory rights, could be of benefit to victims of GBV and other victims of crime.  Effective implementation would require dedicated resources to ensure that victims could access free legal representation from individuals with specific training in the area of victims’ rights. Studies demonstrate that certain types of GBV, particularly sexual violence against women, are vastly underreported. Initiatives that provide victims with access to free legal information and representation could encourage and empower victims to report these types of crimes.


    13 Studies and Bills, Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. 1st Session, 42nd Parliament. Accessed September 2, 2016 from http://www.parl.gc.ca/sencommitteebusiness/CommitteeStudies.aspx?
    parl=42&ses=1&Language=E&comm_id=1011
    .

    14 Evidence, Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, March 24, 2016. Accessed September 2, 2016 from http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/421/LCJC/52465-E.HTM.

    15 Witness Care – Focussing on Greatest Need: Minimum Requirements. Government of UK. July 2012. Accessed September 7, 2016 from https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/assets/uploads/files/Witness%20Care%20-%20Focussing%20on%20Greatest%20Need%20(minimum%20requirements).pdf.

    16 No Witness, No Justice (NWNJ) Pilot Evaluation Final Report. Avail Consulting. October 2004. Accessed September 6, 2016 from http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/nwnj_pilot_evaluation_report_291004.pdf.

    17 The intent of such tools should be to offer greater choice and options to victims for receiving information; they should not replace the ability to speak to a police officer, Crown Attorney, or victim support person.

    18 TrackMyCrime. United Kingdom Ministry of Justice. Accessed September 6, 2016 from https://trackmycrime.police.uk/.

    19 Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An Urgent Need to Address Lengthy Court Delays in Canada. Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. August 2016. The Honourable Bob Runciman, Chair, and the Honourable George Baker, P.C., Deputy Chair, p. 2.

    20 Ibid.

    21 Ibid at 5.

    22 Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program.Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. Accessed August 29, 2016 from https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/ovss/ila.php.

     

  • Right to Seek Restitution

     

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 6: The federal government should explore options for removing from victims with restitution orders in place against federal offenders the burden of pursuing outstanding restitution payments.

     

    Restitution is a sentence that may be ordered by a judge when an offender is a convicted of a crime, in order to help the victim to recover his or her financial losses due to, for example, physical injury, psychological harm, or damaged or lost property as a result of the crime. The CVBR provides the right for victims to have the courts consider a restitution order against the offender in all cases. It also provides the right to have a restitution order entered as a civil court judgment that is enforceable against the offender if the amount owing is not paid. The onus is, however, on victims who do not receive their restitution in full to pursue the matter in civil court, which can be cost prohibitive, in addition to requiring victims to spend more time fighting to obtain money that has been ordered by a judge to be paid to them.  It also means that victims continue to bear costs of the crimes committed against them.

    For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down money owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming and re-victimizing. This is a burden that should not fall to victims.

    At the provincial/territorial level, the Government of Saskatchewan administers a Restitution Civil Enforcement Program (RCEP), which removes the onus and cost from the victim to civilly enforce unpaid restitution orders. It addresses both stand-alone orders which are not a condition of an offender’s probation order (“pay direct to victim” restitution), and supervised probation and conditional sentence orders that have expired without full payment. The RCEP provides free assistance to victims to enforce unpaid orders, and assists offenders in paying outstanding restitution, including through use of civil enforcement mechanisms, when necessary. The RCEP helped victims collect $197,084 in restitution in 2014-15.23 The Government of Saskatchewan also administers an Adult Restitution Program (ARP) which provides victims with information about restitution, and works with offenders, probation officers, and prosecutors to enforce restitution orders. The program monitored 968 new restitution files on behalf of 1,141 victims in 2014-15, either directly through its Restitution Coordinator or in conjunction with Probation Services.24 ARP collection rates have been at or above 70 percent in recent fiscal years.25

    Restitution is part of the offender’s sentence, and measures to encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are necessary. The federal government should explore options to ensure that federal offenders are taking reasonable steps to satisfy their restitution orders, such as by setting out conditions to ensure that offenders fulfil their restitution orders, and by deducting reasonable amounts from an offender’s earnings or institutional accounts to satisfy outstanding restitution orders. The federal government could also explore the possibility of deducting unpaid restitution awards from federal government payments, such as income tax refunds and Employment Insurance payments.

    23 Government of Saskatchewan, Ministry of Justice. Annual Report for 2014-15. Accessed September 8, 2016 from http://www.finance.gov.sk.ca/PlanningAndReporting/2014-15/2014-15JusticeAnnualReport.pdf.

    24 Ibid.

    25 Saskatchewan programs successful at getting victims’ money. Pacholik, B,Regina Leader-Post. (May 5, 2012).

     

  • Right to Remedy

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 7: Victims should be able to turn to an oversight body with statutory powers to ensure appropriate and consistent oversight and enforcement of victims’ rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

    Currently, under the CVBR, each federal entity involved in the CJS is required to have an internal complaints mechanism where victims can bring their complaints. Victims who have exhausted their recourse under the federal complaint mechanism can file a complaint with any authority that has jurisdiction to review complaints in relation to that department/agency. However, in order to strengthen the enforceability of the CVBR, a specific oversight body should be identified to: 1) investigate complaints within federal organizations related to CVBR breaches; 2) compel federal organizations to produce information and documents relevant to a complaint; and 3) recommend remedies on specific complaints as well as systemic issues.

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 8: Victims should have a centralized complaint mechanism regarding alleged breaches of their rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

    Under the CVBR, every federal entity that is involved in the CJS is required to have a complaints mechanism for victims of crime. However, if a victim’s issues pertain to more than one federal entity, he or she is required to lodge a complaint with each individual department/agency. Victims have been reporting the frustrations and challenges they face while attempting to navigate the complaints review mechanisms established in the post-CVBR context. In the case of victims of GBV, it is essential that the victim is not forced to lodge multiple complaints and/or to repeat their lived experiences of victimization to officials of more than one federal department/agency. The OFOVC has recommended to the federal Ministers of Justice and Public Safety that federal entities involved in the CJS should develop a joint complaint form so that victims can submit a complaint and have it referred to the appropriate department/agency without being overwhelmed by a bureaucracy of separate systems.

     

  • Implementation, Enforcement and Evaluation of the CVBR

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 9: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should include a framework for continuous monitoring, reporting and evaluation.

    While the CVBR includes requirement for a Parliamentary review of the legislation five years after its coming into force, it does not include roles and responsibilities for compliance reporting and evaluation. A framework for continuous monitoring, reporting and evaluation would allow Parliament to better assess the reach and impact of the CVBR, as well as identify how it could be strengthened to better meet the needs of victims of crime.

  • Inconsistencies in the Application of Victims’ Rights
  • Immigration System

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 10: Bring victims’ rights within the immigration system in line with victims’ rights within the corrections and conditional release systems.

    Over the years, victims of crime have expressed frustration to the OFOVC about not being able to access information such as dates and decisions of immigration review hearings, dates and destination of release of an offender from the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA)’s custody, and the removal status of an offender. These victims have included victims of GBV who experienced sexual and/or physical violence by partners who served federal time, and were then transferred to the custody of the CBSA pending removal from Canada.

    In response to the issues raised by victims, the CVBR amended the Corrections and Conditional Release Act26 to allow Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to disclose to registered victims “that the offender has been removed from Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act before the expiration of the sentence.” While this is a positive step forward in addressing some of the issues raised by victims, significant safety concerns remain as victims are still not provided with several other types of pertinent information about an offender’s status, while the offender is in the custody of the CBSA.
    Currently, in cases where a federal offender has been transferred from the custody of CSC to the custody of the CBSA, victims have no way to find out whether the offender is being detained by CBSA or living in Canada awaiting an immigration review, leaving the victim to wonder and worry. This uncertainty can cause emotional and psychological stress for victims. Conversely, a victim who is informed of their offender’s status can plan for their own personal safety. While acknowledging that, in some cases, there may be exigent public safety considerations that may preclude the release of information, the OFOVC recommends that the types of information provided to registered victims should include, but not be limited to:


    • notification of transfer between a CSC institution and a CBSA detention facility (advance notification where possible);
    • the name and location of the CBSA detention facility in which the offender is being detained;
    • notification of transfers between CBSA detention facilities (advance notification where possible);
    • advance notification of any release of an offender into the community pending an immigration proceeding, with the name of the community into which he or she is being released, and information related to supervision or imposed conditions (if there are any);
    • notification when an offender is relieved of his or her inadmissibility allegation or determination;
    • notification for victims when an offender is unlawfully at large while under the jurisdiction of the CBSA;
    • notification of any Immigration Review Board (IRB) hearings that involve decision making on admissibility or detention of the offender;
    • notification when an offender is transferred back to CSC’s jurisdiction; and
    • advance notification of the date of removal of an offender from Canada.


    The OFOVC has also raised concerns with respect to victims’ participation – specifically, that victims do not have the right to attend and present a statement at IRB hearings. The OFOVC continues to recommend that registered victims should be permitted to attend IRB hearings that involve decision making on admissibility, detention, or deportation of the offender, with the opportunity to provide or read an updated statement outlining the impact of their victimization. Given that criminality is a factor used to determine whether an individual should be deported, victims should be able to have their voices heard in relation to the criminal offence committed against them and provide information for consideration in a decision regarding the deportation of an offender.

    Failure to keep victims informed and have their views heard and considered undermines their rights and creates undue stress. This is particularly true for victims of GBV who are at greater risk of repeat victimization, intimidation and retaliation by the offender.27 Ultimately, victims of crime should have the same rights for information, protection, and participation whether the offender who harmed them is within the corrections and conditional release system or the immigration system.


    26 See section 26 (1)(b)(v) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-44.6.pdf.

    27 An Analysis of the Victims’ Rights Directive from a Gender Perspective. European Institute for Gender Equality. 2016.

  • Military Justice System

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 11: Bring victims’ rights under the National Defence Act in line with those under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
    Currently, victims’ entitlements provided for in the CVBR do not apply to offences investigated or proceeded with under the National Defence Act and therefore do not apply to victims of crime in the Canadian military justice system. This is a particularly concerning reality for GBV victims as a significant evidence base indicates that GBV is an omnipresent reality in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). It has been estimated that, every day, five individuals in the Canadian military community become victims of sexual assault, and that the majority of these victims are women28 . Military police have received between 134 and 201 complaints of sexual assault per year since 2000, and it is likely that hundreds of other cases have gone unreported29 . In its March 2015 report, the External Review Authority, which was mandated to examine CAF policies, procedures, and programs in relation to sexual harassment and sexual assault, noted, “there is an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members, and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault.”30

    The OFOVC is encouraged by recent initiatives undertaken by the CAF in order to acknowledge and address the pervasive problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour, as documented in two progress reports so far; one covering the period from June to December 2015, and the other from January to June 2016. These steps include, for example: implementation of Operation HONOUR to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the CAF; establishment of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre to provide support to CAF members who have experienced or witnessed inappropriate sexual behaviour; and implementation of a voluntary survey on sexual misconduct conducted by Statistics Canada to help the CAF better understand the scope of inappropriate sexual behavior and the impact it is having on members.

    While progress is being made, the OFOVC remains concerned about the imbalance of victims’ rights provided for in the National Defence Act versus the CVBR. This issue was raised in the CAF’s second progress report31 , wherein Bill C-71, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and the Criminal Code (Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act), was discussed. The bill, which died on the order paper in June 2015, proposed to add a Declaration of Victims’ Rights to the National Defence Act, granting victims of service offences the same rights afforded to victims of criminal offences under the CVBR. In its report, the CAF indicated that it is supportive of the development of a new bill, similar to Bill C-71.

    On December 3, 2015, the OFOVC wrote to the Minister of National Defence concerning this issue. The Ombudsman received a response on March 22, 2016, acknowledging the disparity between the rights afforded to victims of crime in the civilian criminal justice system and the military justice system. In the response, the Minister of Defence noted that this statutory gap would be a priority in the coming months. The OFOVC strongly recommends that the federal government introduce legislation that would mirror victims’ rights provided under the CVBR in the military justice system. Doing so would help to address to GBV within that system.


    28 Our military’s disgrace. Maclean’s Magazine. May 16, 2014.

    29 Ibid.

    30 External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. Marie Deschamps, C.C. Ad.E., External Review Authority. March 27, 2015, p.i.

    31 Progress Report Addressing Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour. Canadian Armed Forces.August, 30 2016.

  • Emerging Issues

    While there are myriad important topical issues related to GBV, the ones highlighted below are a few examples of which the OFOVC has taken note.

  • Cyberviolence

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 12: Ensure that the federal strategy against gender-based violence includes targeted measures (e.g., techniques, strategies, partnerships, legislation, and supports for victims) to counter and respond to cyberviolence.

    The Internet and information technologies have created new criminal opportunities for victimization. The types of crimes that are being committed are not new, but the way in which they are being carried out has changed.


    Figure 2: Technology as an Instrument to Commit Criminal Activity in Cyberspace


    Traditional Crime

    Cybercrime Equivalent

    e.g. Uttering threats

    e.g. Sending threatening messages via social media, emails, or posting on Internet sites

    e.g. Criminal harassment

    e.g. Cyberstalking

    While anyone can be a victim of cyberviolence, the majority of victims of cyberviolence are young women and girls, and cyberviolence can therefore be understood as a type of GBV. For example, in 2012, police identified 2,070 victims of violent cybercrime; females accounted for 69 percent of victims of violent cybercrime, including 84 percent of victims of sexual violations.32
    This type of violent victimization through technology is particularly difficult to predict, prevent, investigate or prosecute as it committed through rapid means of communication, which can be perpetrated on a global platform with relative anonymity. In 2012, 79 percent of cybercrime incidents reported to the police did not result in an accused being identified and a subsequent charge being laid.33 This is insufficient justice for victims; their needs and rights remain the same regardless of whether or not technology is used to commit the crime.
    The conversation on cybercrime prevention tends to focus on enhancing police resources and developing anti-cybercrime legislation. Responses to cybercrime, however, particularly gender-based violent victimization, require innovative ideas. Prevention can also center on identifying vulnerabilities in technologies and encouraging industry and service providers to make modifications that will reduce the opportunities for victimization. There are also opportunities to leverage technology to fight cybercrime, such as Cybertip.ca – a website to report the online sexual exploitation of children.
    While techniques, strategies, partnerships, and legislation are being developed to fight cybercrime, there are still people being victimized who need support. The type of support that victims of cybercrime may need can range from very basic services, such as providing an interim phone or computer while the victim’s items are in police possession for forensic investigation, to more critical services such as implementing a peace bond or specialized counselling for women who have experienced violent threats online. Approaches to tackling cybercrime should include a focus on victim-centred support services that address the unique circumstances of technology-facilitated victimization. They should also include public education initiatives to: raise awareness about the serious impacts of cyberviolence; counter the current phenomenon of victim blaming that many victims of cyberviolence experience; and encourage victims to report incidents of cybercrime.


    32 Police-reported cybercrime in Canada, 2012. Statistics Canada. 2014. Juristat vol. 34, no. 1. Catalogue no. 85-002-X. ISSN 1209-6393

    33 Ibid.

  • Restorative Justice

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 13: Undertake efforts to ensure that victims are aware of their right to request information about restorative justice programs. Initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of, and participation in, restorative justice programs should adopt a victim-centred approach, including to be sensitive to the specific needs and concerns of gender-based violence victims, so that victims can make fully informed choices.

    Restorative justice (RJ) is based on the premise that crime is not only a violation of the law but also an injustice that needs to be restored.34 It can be defined as an approach to justice that focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime by: 1) holding the offender accountable for their actions; 2) providing parties affected by the crime an opportunity to address their needs and seek a resolution that lends itself towards reparation; and 3) preventing future harm/victimization. 34 There are various RJ models such as victim-offender mediation, whereby the victim and the offender volunteer to come together and be guided by a trained mediator, and conferencing, whereby the victim, the offender, their supporters and a member of the community work toward reparation.35 In contrast to the rigidities and formalities of the traditional justice system, RJ is a flexible process, which can be moulded to meet the needs of participants.36

    Research indicates that when RJ practices remain respectful of the victim’s  perspective, they can be better than traditional criminal justice at meeting victims’ needs for information, participation and insight.37 Compared to the traditional justice system, RJ practices are better suited to truth telling, acknowledging victimization, and working towards a reconciliatory form of justice.  These concepts hold true for many forms of victimization, especially violent crime,38 yet many victims, particularly victims of violence, are not being informed about RJ opportunities.

    Under the CVBR, every victim has the right, on request, to information about the services and programs available to them, including RJ programs. However, a recent Canadian study indicates that many victims of violent crime are simply unaware that RJ even exists and that victims would in fact prefer to be proactively informed of RJ opportunities, even if they decline to participate, than not know about it at all.39 Similar findings have been observed in the United Kingdom, where a recent poll on awareness of, and attitudes towards, RJ revealed that 68 percent of respondents who had been a victim of a crime had not heard of RJ.40  

    Such findings help to underscore the importance of targeted efforts to ensure that the onus is not on victims to know about RJ in the first place, in order to inquire about it. Providing information to victims about RJ is central to their having choice and options. How victims are informed, however, matters greatly. Understandably, not all victims of violence, particularly victims of GBV – where oftentimes someone known to the victim has committed the violence – will want or choose to participate in RJ.

    A current priority of the federal government is to increase the use of RJ processes. It is the OFOVC’s perspective that initiatives aimed to increase awareness of, and participation in, RJ should not lose sight of victims’ perspectives. In its analysis of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive, the European Institute for Gender Equality cautions against blindly offering RJ to victims of GBV without considering their social, economic and psychological condition. Measures should be taken to safeguard against re-victimization and RJ processes should only be used only if they are in the best interests of the victim, and if the victim provides informed consent. This requires CJS personnel to proactively provide victims with fulsome and unbiased information about RJ and its potential outcomes.41

    Similar issues were echoed in a recent report issued by the United Kingdom House of Commons Justice Committee.42 The Committee recommended that police and other criminal justice bodies should play a proactive role in improving victim awareness of RJ and that all victims should have equal access to victim-centred RJ. However, the Committee also cautioned about the risks of particularly vulnerable victims engaging in RJ. For example, victims of domestic abuse often experience coercive control and emotional abuse; in that context, RJ can be another method for a perpetrator to continue to exert control and abuse over the victim. Despite highlighting the potential risks regarding RJ in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and hate crime, the Committee advised that victims of such crimes should nonetheless still be informed of, and provided with, RJ if desired. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that guidelines and training should be created for RJ practitioners working with particularly vulnerable victims, such as victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  

    The above considerations point to the central need to apply a victim-centred approach – one that is particularly mindful of the needs and concerns of GBV victims – when informing the public about RJ processes, as well as when designing, implementing, and evaluating such processes.


    34 Victims’ Reflections on the Protective and Proactive Approaches to the Offer of Restorative Justice: The Importance of Information. Tinneke Van Camp, and Jo-Anne Wemmers. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 2016

    35 Restorative Justice: An Avenue of Healing for Victims and Survivors in the Aftermath of Trauma. Tanya Rugge. Public Safety Canada. 2016

    36 Ibid at 34.

    37 Ibid at 35.

    38 Ibid at 34.

    39 Ibid.

    40 Ibid.

    42 Ibid at 22.

    43 Restorative Justice: Fourth Report of the Session 2016-17. United Kingdom House of Commons Justice Committee. September 2016. Accessed September 7, 2016 from http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/164/164.pdf

  • Publication Bans in Sexual Assault Cases

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 14: The federal government should explore options, including providing access to legal information and representation, to ensure that victims of sexual violence are provided with: adequate information regarding the complex legalities of publication bans; the opportunity to make their views about a ban known prior to its order; and/or assistance in making an application for a ban. The Government should also explore options to remove the burden from victims who wish to lift a ban.
    As part of their right to protection, the CVBR affords victims the statutory right to have their privacy taken into consideration by authorities in the CJS. For victims of sexual offences, one tool used to protect a victim’s privacy is a court order restricting publication of criminal proceedings, otherwise known as a publication ban.  A publication ban prevents anyone, including a victim, from publishing, broadcasting or sending any information that could identify a victim, witness or other person who participates in the CJS.44

    In the context of sexual offences and informing victims of their rights, the Court is only required to inform victims of sexual offences who are under the age of 18 of their right to seek a publication ban. Adult victims should also be informed of this right. Victims cannot make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to exercise the right provided under the Criminal Code to seek a publication ban if they do not know that this right exists in the first place, or if they lack adequate information upon which to base a decision. Having adequate information includes understanding the full impact of a publication ban, which affects not only newspapers but also legal reports that are published online. Being fully informed also includes knowing that other criminal justice participants (e.g., prosecutors, witnesses) likewise have the right to seek a publication ban.

    Victims of sexual offences should also be able to have an opportunity to make their views known prior to a judge ordering a publication ban on behalf of another criminal justice participant. This is particularly relevant as prosecutors often proactively make applications for publication bans on behalf of victims in sexual assault cases without consulting the victim. Although the intent is to protect the privacy and ensure the safety of victims, publication bans can also stigmatize or silence the voice of sexual assault victims and infringe on their right to participation. Depending on the person and the specifics of the case, some victims may want to share their story as part of their healing process and to encourage other victims to come forward, while other victims might want to remain anonymous. This speaks to the importance of ensuring that sexual assault victims are fully informed about publication bans, so that they can make their views known. 

    Under Recommendation 5 of this submission, the OFOVC has recommended that, in order for victims’ participatory rights to be effectively implemented in criminal proceedings, victims should have access to free legal information and representation by counsel with specific training in the area of victims’ rights. With respect to victims of sexual offences and publication bans, having increased access to legal information would help to ensure that victims have the information they need to determine whether or not they want to exercise their right to seek a publication ban. Likewise, having access to legal representation would help victims to exercise their right to make an application for a ban.

    Finally, while victims understand the rationale behind publication bans, they often feel that the process of going back to Court in order to waive a publication ban is arduous. Although publication bans involve complex considerations, particularly when there is more than one victim involved or where there are competing interests, such as witness protection versus victim privacy, there should be options so that victims do not have to go through an onerous process to have a publication ban lifted.


    44 Victims’ Rights in Canada: Publication Bans. Department of Justice Canada. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/victims-victimes/factsheets-fiches/publication.html
  • Key Building Blocks
  • Collection of Data and Statistics

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 15: The federal government should take a leading role in enhancing and standardizing data collection against gender-based violence and victimization. This data will be crucial to the development and evaluation of the federal strategy on gender-based violence and its resulting initiatives.

    In order to achieve its intended results, a national strategy against GBV needs to include specific activities with benchmarks and indicators. 45   However, in order to support the strategy’s development and implementation, as well as to be able to monitor its effectiveness, there needs to be a focus on the collection and analysis of both aggregate and statistical data. It will be important to ascertain women’s experience with violence in Canada, as well as those of specific populations disproportionately affected by GBV (e.g., transgendered people, young women, Indigenous women, women with disabilities) and in specific contexts (sexual violence, technology-facilitated violence, workplace harassment, etc.).  
    A recent report release by the U.S. Government Accountability Office highlights the importance of cohesive victimization research and data collection. The report describes the inconsistency in data collection with respect to sexual violence across the U.S. Four different U.S. federal departments collect statistical data on sexual violence yet the information cannot be compared due to variations in definitions, categorizations, and measurements. As a result, estimates of the number of sexual assault victims in the U.S. drastically range from 244,190 to 1,929,000 per year.46 One recommendation highlighted in the report called for a federal interagency forum on sexual violence data. In the context of Canada’s federal strategy against GBV, the report serves as a reminder of the need for interdepartmental collaboration with respect to research and statistics.
    Recognizing the need to strengthen research and data collection related to victimization, broadly, the OFOVC has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics on a data mapping study outlining current data collection processes across Canada and key data gaps and opportunities related to victims of crime. A final report is forthcoming, and will identify areas where data is needed or currently lacking, such as: victim satisfaction with services; data on the nature, prevalence, and incidence of victimization; key characteristics of victims of crime (e.g., victims who are new immigrants, elderly victims) accessing services from the justice system; and other areas. The report will also identify options for developing relevant victimization metrics to respond to identified data needs to inform program development and assist in program evaluation related to victims’ issues. The work will no doubt provide useful insight with respect to the development of a data collection framework to support a federal strategy against GBV.


    45 Ibid at 5.

    46 Sexual Violence Data: Actions Needed to Improve Clarity and Address Differences Across Federal Data Collection Efforts. U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2016

  • Education, Training and Awareness

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 16: The federal government should adopt a leadership role in ensuring that those working in the criminal justice system have victim-centred and trauma-informed training, as well as training on victims’ rights, in order to be able to recognize gender-based violence and appropriately respond to gender-based violence victims. It is recommended that the federal government also lead on initiatives to increase public education and awareness in order to counter gender-based violence.

    Supporting victims and survivors of GBV also means ensuring that key participants in the CJS are trained to recognize GBV and respond appropriately by providing the necessary supports to victims in a considerate and non-judgmental manner. GBV violence is often committed by someone known to the victim (e.g. partner, family member); therefore, it is not uncommon for victims to experience fear, shame or social stigma. 47 Furthermore, victims of GBV are particularly at risk of repeat victimization, intimidation and retaliation by the offender. 48 Consequently, many victims are reluctant to, or do not, report their victimization to the authorities. Given these circumstances, it is important to create an environment that will encourage victims to report crime. Part of creating a safe environment for victims of GBV to come forward involves victim-centred and trauma-informed training for those working in the CJS. Such training involves, for example, increasing: awareness of the effects of violence on victims; understanding of the risks of re-victimization; and knowledge of techniques to respond to trauma.
    CJS staff are of great importance in holding perpetrators of GBV accountable; arrests, court proceedings and convictions depend greatly on the expertise and professionalism of criminal justice authorities. CJS staff also play a critical role in ensuring that victims are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. At the provincial/territorial level, the Justice Institute of British Columbia has partnered with the Government of Alberta to develop a Victim Advocate Core Training Certificate. The online certificate program is aimed at providing CJS staff (victim services workers, police, shelter and sexual assault workers, etc.) in Alberta with the knowledge and skills needed to respond to and support victims of crime. The federal government could play a leading role in ensuring that federal staff in the CJS receive victim-centred and trauma-informed training.
    At the same time, public campaigns, education curricula and media representations can greatly influence societal perceptions of acceptable behaviour and can be effective tools to inform victims about laws, their rights, and the remedies and supports available to them.49 Therefore, evidence-based, awareness-raising activities that tackle gender inequality and gender stereotypes will also be key in addressing the root causes of GBV.


    47 An Analysis of the Victims’ Rights Directive from a Gender Perspective. European Institute for Gender Equality.

    48 Ibid.

    49 Ibid at 5.

  • Supporting Victims of GBV

    Rounded Rectangle: Recommendation 17: The federal government should develop national guidelines/standards aimed at ensuring that victim-centred and trauma-informed supports are in place to respond to and support gender-based violence victims.
    Support is integral to a victim’s recovery. Victims may need support not only in the immediate aftermath of a crime, but over the longer term. Supporting victims of GBV through a victim-centred and trauma-centered approach involves providing access to appropriate supports and services and empowering victims to act as engaged participants in the CJS and work towards rehabilitation.
    A victim-centred approach involves creating a supportive environment where victims who are suffering feel confident and comfortable enough to come forward and seek the help they need. As it relates to the CJS, a victim-centred approach can be defined as:

    The systematic focus on the needs and concerns of a victim to ensure the compassionate and sensitive delivery of services in a nonjudgmental manner. A victim-centered approach seeks to minimize re-traumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing victim support services, empowering victims as engaged participants in the process, and providing victims an opportunity to play a role in seeing their {offender} brought to justice.”50

    Victim-centered means that the victim is at the center of all decisions regarding recovery and any involvement with the criminal justice system; the victim’s choice, safety and well-being is the focus; and the needs of the victim are everyone’s – not just victim advocates’ – concern.”51

    A trauma-informed approach is one that recognizes and responds to the effects of all types of trauma:
    “Trauma-informed means attending to the victim’s emotional and physical safety; using resources, services and support to increase the victim’s capacity to recover; and educating victims, service providers and the general community about the impact of…trauma on the health and well-being of the victim.”52

    Recognizing that victim services fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, and that provincial/territorial governments have the authority to determine the programs and services offered, it is worth noting that many victims are calling for a nationally consistent minimum standard of care. The latter would help to ensure that all victims, no matter where they live in Canada, can access basic and necessary supports. For example, In the U.S., the federal Office for Victims of Crime has created model standards for serving victims and survivors of crime. The standards are intended to provide guidelines to victim-serving agencies, across all levels of government, which promote high-quality and consistent responses to victims of crime. 53

    From the perspective of victims of crime, there is variability across the country regarding access to much needed services. Federal victim support standards/guidelines would help level the disparity of services. They would create a foundation for ensuring that victims are provided with core supports that focus on their well-being and promote healing and resiliency.


    50 Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center, Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.ovcttac.gov/views/resources/index.cfm

    51 Notifying Sexual Assault Victims After Testing Evidence. National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/249153.pdf

    52 Ibid.

    53 Program Standards for Serving Victims & Survivors of Crime. Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.ovc.gov/model-standards/program_standards.html?utm_source=NewsFromOVC&utm_medium=email&utm_content=ProgramStandards&utm_campaign=ModelStandards&ed2f26df2d9c416fbddddd2330a778c6=qoznomrmmi-qloprimi

  • Conclusion

    The OFOVC is hopeful that a federal strategy against GBV will help diminish, prevent, and eventually eradicate all forms of GBV. Throughout the consultation process and development of the strategy, the Office encourages the Advisory Council and federal government to continuously consider the overarching need for approaches that are victim-centred and evidenced-based.

    It is the OFOVC’s position that, while the strategy is focused on the federal realm and, therefore, on areas upon which the federal government can demonstrate leadership, ultimately, collaborative work and partnerships will be required across all sectors. A tri-governmental framework, which allows all levels of government to have a dialogue, while respecting individual mandates and authorities, is warranted.

    In the meantime, the OFOVC will continue to encourage the Government to address policy, program, and legislative gaps in order to enhance the rights of victims of crime, including GBV victims. Ensuring that victims are informed, considered, protected, and supported throughout their journey, from the time of crime through any experiences with the CJS and over the longer term, should remain an important goal across systems and services interacting with victims of GBV.

  • Summary of Recommendations
    • Recommendation 1: Victims should receive clear, comprehensive information about their rights within the criminal justice system.
    • Recommendation 2: Victims should have the right to a review of a decision not to prosecute.
    • Recommendation 3: Victims’ employment status should be protected in the immediate aftermath of a crime and during court proceedings.
    • Recommendation 4: Victims should have the right to a speedy trial and to a prompt and final conclusion of the case.
    • Recommendation 5: Victims should have access to free legal representation in order to be fully informed of their participatory rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, and to be able to address the court to exercise or enforce them, should they wish to do so.
    • Recommendation 6: The federal government should explore options for removing from victims with restitution orders in place against federal offenders the burden of pursuing outstanding restitution payments.
    • Recommendation 7: Victims should be able to turn to an oversight body with statutory powers to ensure appropriate and consistent oversight and enforcement of victims’ rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
    • Recommendation 8: Victims should have a centralized complaint mechanism regarding alleged breaches of their rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
    • Recommendation 9: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should include a framework for continuous monitoring, reporting and evaluation.
    • Recommendation 10: Bring victims’ rights within the immigration system in line with victims’ rights within the corrections and conditional release systems.
    • Recommendation 11: Bring victims’ rights under the National Defence Act in line with those under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
    • Recommendation 12: Ensure that the federal strategy against gender-based violence includes targeted measures (e.g., techniques, strategies, partnerships, legislation, and supports for victims) to counter and respond to cyberviolence.
    • Recommendation 13: Undertake efforts to ensure that victims are aware of their right to request information about restorative justice programs. Initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of, and participation in, restorative justice programs should adopt a victim-centred approach, including to be sensitive to the specific needs and concerns of gender-based violence victims, so that victims can make fully informed choices.
    • Recommendation 14:The federal government should explore options, including providing access to legal information and representation, to ensure that victims of sexual violence are provided with: adequate information regarding the complex legalities of publication bans; the opportunity to make their views about a ban known prior to its order; and/or assistance in making an application for a ban. The Government should also explore options to remove the burden from victims who wish to lift a ban.
    • Recommendation 15: The federal government should take a leading role in enhancing and standardizing data collection on gender-based violence and victimization. This data will be crucial to the development and evaluation of the federal strategy on gender-based violence and its resulting initiatives.
    • Recommendation 16: The federal government should adopt a leadership role in ensuring that those working in the criminal justice system have victim-centred and trauma-informed training, as well as training on victims’ rights, in order to be able to recognize gender- based violence and appropriately respond to gender-based violence victims. It is recommended that the federal government also lead on initiatives to increase public education and awareness in order to counter gender-based violence.
    • Recommendation 17: The federal government should develop national guidelines/standards aimed at ensuring that victim-centred and trauma-informed supports are in place to respond to and support gender-based violence victims.
  • Sources