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Letter addressed to the Prime Minister concerning a Parliamentary Review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights

 

September 11, 2020

 

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

 

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime1 was created to help ensure that the rights of victims and survivors of crime are respected and upheld, and that victims are treated fairly by federal institutions.

We look forward to the upcoming Speech from the Throne on September 23, which will outline the Government of Canada’s direction and goals. The Throne Speech provides the Government with an opportunity to recognize the challenges victims and survivors of crime face, especially in light of the recent murders of 22 people in Nova Scotia and the reported rise in domestic violence linked to COVID-19 isolation. I am writing to urge you to consider a Parliamentary Review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR), legislation that was passed in 2015 and is to be reviewed five years after its coming into force. 

Commencing a Parliamentary Review now is vital, especially in the context of Covid-19 and its impacts on the vulnerability of marginalized communities. I feel it is imperative to examine the treatment of victims and survivors in and across the Canadian criminal justice system. In my view, a Parliamentary Committee should examine whether the objectives of: information, protection, participation and seeking restitution contained in the Act have been met or not.  It would also be important to bring a Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) to the assessment of this legislation.

As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, I have met with numerous stakeholders, victims and survivors, advocacy organizations, police forces, victims’ services providers, and human rights advocates who largely agree:

  1. Victims lack knowledge and understanding of their rights under the CVBR;
  2. Survivors still face difficulty navigating the justice system;
  3. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights is weak because rights are not legally enforceable; and
  4. There is a dearth of data collected by criminal justice institutions relating to victims’ experiences, which is a means to measure the effective implementation of rights.

The need to ensure the rights of Canadians are protected continues. Crime victims and survivors have rights that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and thus officials must take responsibility for delivering these rights. This critical time presents an opportunity to discuss the modernization of our criminal justice system, where we may humanize our approach to justice, and ensure that victims and their rights receive equal recognition and respect. We will advance justice for all in Canada when we fully empower victims to assert their rights.

A Parliamentary Review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights is also very timely in light of the pandemic and its ongoing impacts on victims’ ability to access justice. I believe Canadians would be supportive of this review.

Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth (she/her/elle)
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime/l'Ombudsman fédérale des victimes d'actes criminels

 

[1] The mandate of my office includes ensuring that victims and their families have access to federal programs and services specifically designed for their support. In addition to our ongoing efforts to help individual victims, we also have a responsibility to identify and bring forward emerging and systemic issues that impact negatively on victims of crime at the federal level. In doing so, we work closely with victim service providers and a host of other government and non-government stakeholders on our common goal of building a justice system that better serves everyone in Canada.



Response

 

November 17, 2020

 

Dear Heidi Illingworth:

 

Thank you for your leadership as the federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and for your continued work with stakeholders to bring forward key issues of importance to support victims and survivors of crime throughout Canada.

Our Government’s efforts to protect the rights of victims, and of all Canadians, are informed by the perspectives of those with lived experiences. Thank you for sharing some of the specific, recent concerns of victims and survivors, including challenges related to access to justice in the context of COVID-19 and the need for enhanced data on victims’ experiences in the criminal justice system. I am copying the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to allow for this input to inform our ongoing efforts to respond to the pandemic.

Regarding your specific call for a Parliamentary review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, as you may be aware, it is the independent responsibility of Parliament to designate or establish a committee for the purposes of undertaking such a review.

As you will have seen in the recent Speech from the Throne, our Government has committed to continuing to bring about progress to the policing and justice systems to ensure Canadians are confident that the justice system is there to protect them. This includes introducing legislation and investing in efforts to address systemic inequities through all phases of the criminal justice system. The needs of victims and survivors are certainly being considered as we implement this important commitment.

 

Sincerely,

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau