Letter to House Leaders to join our call to action and undertake a legislated review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights
March 29, 2021
Peter Julian, House Leader of the New Democratic Party
Kevin Lamoureux, Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Karen Vecchio, Deputy House Leader of the Official Opposition
Re: Legislated Review of the CVBR
Dear House Leaders,
As the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, my mandate is to ensure that the rights of victims and survivors of crime are respected and upheld and that the federal government meets its obligations to victims.
I am writing to you in the context of the urgent need for a Parliamentary review of Bill C-32, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR), enacted in 2015.
Based on the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power and the Canadian Basic Statement of Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime, the Act provides victims with four statutory rights:
- To be provided with information about the justice processes related to the crime committed against them;
- To participate in those justice processes;
- To be protected from the accused/offender; and
- To seek restitution from the offender for financial losses sustained due to the crime.
The Act also included a requirement to designate or establish a committee of Parliament to review it five years after its coming into force.
The purpose of a review is to provide Parliament with the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the CVBR in ensuring that the rights of victims of crime are respected, and to assess the federal government’s success in meeting its obligations to victims.
The 2019 review of Canada’s criminal justice system published by the Department of Justice acknowledged that victims often feel “revictimized” by the system, and argued in favour of the need for major changes to support the rights of victims, survivors and their families. This acknowledgement, coupled with what I had been hearing from victims, gave me concern regarding the effectiveness of the CVBR legislation.
Thus, in 2020, my Office conducted an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the CVBR and, on November 25, 2020, I released the Progress Report: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The Progress Report includes an analysis of victims’ experiences as related to the four statutory rights set out in the legislation. Meetings with victims, organizations serving victims, police, academics and other stakeholders further informed my conclusions and recommendations.
Based on the analysis of the available data, it appears that the objectives of the Act are not being met:
- Implementation of the Act has been sporadic and inconsistent across the country;
- Training opportunities for criminal justice officials have been limited; and
- There has been no pan-Canadian public education effort to inform citizens of their rights.
The inescapable conclusion is that the situation of victims of crime has not fundamentally changed since the CVBR came into force.
Only Parliament can undertake the necessary steps to refine the legislation so that it can truly serve the needs of the some two million Canadians who become victims of crime each year. I urge you, in your respective roles, to work with your colleagues in Parliament to undertake a review of the CVBR as soon as possible.
I believe the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights would be best equipped to undertake the review, however I understand that this decision would be at the discretion of Parliament.
To ensure that the victims of crime are at the centre of the federal government’s actions in addressing violence and crime, the reviewing body could explore the development of a suite of regulations to support the implementation of the CVBR, something that has been lacking since 2015. Without the concrete framework that regulations would provide, the public servants delivering the service of justice to Canadians have been operating in a vacuum. Following are a few examples of factors to consider when implementing the law:
- Creating national standards for the treatment of victims;
- Providing comprehensive training on the CVBR, and how to apply it in practice, for criminal justice personnel across Canada, so that the treatment of victims is consistent and equal across the country;
- Adopting methods to ensure victims are automatically provided with information about their rights;
- Developing public education campaigns to inform citizens about their rights as victims of crime;
- Building capacity of victim support organizations with sustained, stable funding;
- Ensuring that legal and administrative remedies are easily available to victims whose rights have not been respected; and
- Implementing the collection of nationally consistent data on the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.
I would be pleased to provide any needed assistance to the body designated to undertake the review.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime