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Letter addressed to Jennifer Oades, Chairperson of the Parole Board of Canada on the reasons for not imposing conditions

   

December 21, 2020

Ms. Jennifer Oades, Chairperson                                                                                              
Parole Board of Canada    
410 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1A 0R1

Dear Ms. Oades,

I hope you are keeping safe and well this holiday season. I am writing with regards to complaints to my Office, where Parole Board of Canada (PBC) did not include in the written decision, the reason(s) for not imposing a geographical restriction, as requested by the victims. As you know, the wording of subsection 133(3.2) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) is as follows: 

Written reasons

(3.2) If a statement referred to in subsection (3.1) has been provided to the releasing authority and the releasing authority decides not to impose any conditions under that subsection, it shall provide written reasons for the decision.

I believe the intent of the legislation was to require reasons if any condition that was requested is not imposed, but perhaps you can clarify on what basis reasons are not being given. The purpose of written decisions is to “contribute to public understanding of conditional release decision making and to promote openness and accountability”. When Board members determine a geographic restriction is not required, it demonstrates the belief that the offender(s) will not present an undue risk to the victims or society upon release. For victims of crime, information is empowering. Victims need to be provided with complete and clear information to understand why the decision has been taken. When an offender is reintegrating to a community in very close proximity to their victims, this causes incredible stress and anxiety to survivors. Victims often want to be protected from bumping into the offender. Taking a trauma-informed approach means understanding and acknowledging the victim’s need to feel safe. Their fear is very real and can be overwhelming at times. When the Board omits a written explanation of reasons for a decision, it results in increased confusion, anger and mistrust for victims who are unable to understand why their request was not granted.

In order to ensure the proper interpretation of section 133(3.2), I recommend training for Board members around requiring written reasons when a particular condition that has been requested is not required. This will ensure victims have a better understanding of why conditions are not needed.

I welcome the opportunity to further discuss this recommendation with you and to working together to ensure victims’ needs are respected.

 

Sincerely,


Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime



Response

January 22, 2021

BY EMAIL

Dear Heidi:

I am writing to follow-up on the exchange below. Following receipt of additional details regarding the case in question, I wish to clarify the Board’s obligation to provide reasons when it does not impose conditions to protect the victim. Pursuant to subsection 133(3.2) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), if a statement has been provided by a victim and the Board does not impose any conditions under subsection 133(3.1) of the CCRA, it will provide reasons for their decision. In accordance with the legislative requirement, Board members will provide reasons for their decision to not impose conditions requested by the victim, only in cases where none of the requested conditions were imposed.

I hope that the above provides additional clarity on the Board’s application of this legislative provision. In closing, I want to assure you that we remain committed to taking a trauma-informed approach in our communications and interactions with victims, and to improving and strengthening our training to ensure a trauma-informed approach to decision-writing.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

 

Jennifer Oades
Chairperson| Présidente
Parole Board of Canada | Commission des libérations conditionnelles du Canada



Response

 

Dear Jennifer,

 

Thank you for your response of January 22, 2021 clarifying the Board’s policy on this matter. I am writing to express my concern with the Board’s current interpretation of section 133 (3.2) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA). I believe it is inconsistent with the intent of the legislation.

To my knowledge, there is nothing that prevents Board Members from outlining reasons for not imposing specific conditions requested by victims. In fact, it is my position that not providing this information to victims represents an infringement of their rights under the Canadian Victims’ Bill of Rights.

Victims and survivors often report to my Office feeling that their safety concerns are not heard or given due consideration by decision-makers throughout the criminal justice system, including during the corrections and conditional release process. I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be for victims and survivors to prepare victim statements ahead of a PBC hearing. This process often causes victims to relive their trauma, as they prepare to recount their experiences to the Board and request the Board impose conditions that they believe are necessary to protect them and their loved ones. Some report extreme anxiety, not sleeping or eating well for weeks in advance of a hearing. In preparing a statement, they hope to be heard, respected, and considered.

Providing victims with information that clearly shows what consideration was given to their concerns contributes to their healing and sense of safety, and to their faith in the corrections and conditional release process. As such, I respectfully recommend that PBC amend its policy, including the Decision Making Policy Manual for Board Members, to require Board Members to provide written reasons for each requested condition that is not imposed, and that training for Board Members reflect this requirement.

I believe this policy change should not be viewed as a burden on decision-makers, but instead as an opportunity to provide complete information to victims about how decision-makers arrived at their decision. It also demonstrates to victims that all of their concerns have been considered and acknowledged, contributing to trauma-informed decision-making by PBC.

I look forward to your response and to continuing to work together to ensure the needs of victims and survivors of crime are considered throughout the corrections and conditional release process.

 

Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime