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The Parliamentary Review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights is Overdue: Ombudsman’s statement on the sixth anniversary of the Act

Six years ago, on July 23, 2015, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) came into force, signifying an important moment for the recognition of victims’ rights in the Canadian criminal justice system. The Act gave all victims and survivors the right to information about their case; the right to protection; the right to participate and share their views in processes that affect their rights; and the right to seek restitution for losses throughout the criminal justice and corrections system. It also provided victims with the ability to file a complaint if they felt their rights were not respected.

The Bill promised to change the culture of our justice system however; my Office has found that several fundamental gaps and challenges remain for victims and survivors. When passed, the Act placed limitations on victims’ rights making it a symbolic instrument rather than a guarantee of enforceable rights or supports.

On November 25, 2020, my Office launched our Progress Report on the CVBR, which included 15 evidence-informed recommendations to strengthen the Bill and empower victims and survivors of crime. These recommendations are informed by our frontline work with stakeholders and the lived experiences of victims and survivors who have reached out to our Office. Our findings are clear: the implementation of the CVBR has been sporadic and inconsistent. There has been no major effort to systematically inform citizens of their rights, criminal justice personnel have not been assigned clear roles and responsibilities regarding the delivery of victims’ rights, training opportunities for officials have been limited, and data on victims are not collected and published in a consistent manner across the country. The result for victims is that no one is accountable when their rights are infringed and the justice system falls far short of delivering on the promised rights.

Experts in victimology and law, as well as frontline service providers, have echoed our concerns that victims have to proactively ask officials for information about their rights and lack legal or administrative mechanisms of accountability. Strengthening the CVBR is necessary to start rebuilding public confidence and faith in our criminal justice system. We can empower victims of crime by providing them enforceable rights. The government must also commit to full implementation through robust reporting, monitoring, and evaluation so that we can measure what broader change is being achieved by the CVBR. Only when victims’ rights in law are respected fully, will we help victims recover, increase access to justice, and enhance public safety.

The statutory review of the CVBR is overdue. Please join our Call to Action by sharing our Progress Report with your Member of Parliament. The recent Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ pre-study was not robust or inclusive enough. It is time to review the CVBR with a view to strengthening accountability and supports for victims across the justice system.  

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime