Breadcrumb trail

I acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation. I honour the leadership, strength, and wisdom of Indigenous peoples, and I accept personal responsibility for pursuing justice and reconciliation.

 

Ombudsperson’s Statement on Bill S-12

An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act

On October 26, 2023, the Government passed Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act. These legislative changes will, among other things, simplify how victims access information and make the regime on publication bans more victim-centred. These breakthroughs are worthy of celebration and the result of collective efforts on the part of victims’ rights advocates and representatives.

Right to information

An important milestone has been achieved: for the first time, there will be a legislated process to ensure victims are asked if they want to receive information about the offender’s sentence and its administration. At the sentencing hearing, the judge must ask the prosecutor if reasonable steps were taken to determine whether the victim wishes to receive this type of information. In addition, a checkbox has been added to the victim impact statement used at sentencing to request this information. If that box is checked, the court will be required to transfer the victim’s contact information to Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to facilitate registration. A registered victim is able to express safety concerns and receive information about transfers, parole dates, and any release plans related to the offender.

Publication bans

Publication bans can be a useful tool for protecting victims, but they can also unduly silence them. Many victims of sexual assault have shared with us that they were not informed of the existence of a publication ban nor about the complex process of getting it lifted. Thanks to these reforms, the courts must now ask the prosecutor if the victim wished to have a publication ban imposed before making the application. If the victim is present, the courts must ask them directly. If the victim is not present, the prosecutor is required to demonstrate to the court that they are acting in respect of the victim's wishes with respect to a publication ban. Additionally, prosecutors are now responsible for informing a victim about a publication ban on their name, and their right to remove or modify the order. Victims and survivors under publication ban orders will also be able to decide what is best for them and can disclose information about their story to legal or health care professionals or someone with whom they have a trusted relationship, without fear of legal repercussions.

Recommendations:

We’ve made progress towards a more victim-centred criminal justice system, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure victims are adequately informed about their rights. Here are two examples of further improvements that are needed:

1. Informed consent. Publication bans can have significant consequences for survivors. The advantages and disadvantages should be more clearly presented with supporting written resources that provide information in plain, easy-to-understand language. Trauma can make it difficult to process and recall information, so having something to review can help in decision-making. A resource on publication bans explaining the law, safety considerations, and how to have a ban varied or revoked should be provided early on to victims and survivors who have often been thrust into an unfamiliar criminal justice system.

2. Victim-centred information. A new process to provide victims of crime with information after sentencing is one of the essential contributions of Bill S-12. However, it does not clearly explain that a victim must register with CSC or the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to receive information on victim services, restorative justice, prison transfers, how to participate in parole hearings, share safety concerns, or be advised when the person who harmed them is released. The system and its actors as a whole must take proactive responsibility to automatically inform victims of the process, provide them with resources that explain their rights, how to register with CSC or PBC, and explain that if they do not register, they will not receive further information.


Dr. Benjamin Roebuck (he/him)

Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime