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Letter addressed to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the study of the Canadian Victims’ Bill of Rights

 

Ms. Iqra Khalid, M.P.
Chair, Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

June 10, 2021

 

Dear Chair and Honourable Committee Members,

As promised when I appeared before the Committee on June 3rd, attached, please find an electronic copy of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime’s Progress Report: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

I would like to thank you again for inviting me to appear before the Committee and allocating a considerable amount of time to discuss issues related to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). I remain deeply concerned about the inconsistent implementation of victims’ rights across Canada, despite the enactment of this quasi-constitutional statute. I am especially concerned about the lack of ability for victims to enforce their rights in law or to hold institutions accountable for delivering these rights through legal or administrative remedies.

It is my hope that the Committee will make strong recommendations to move forward with the legislated Review of the CVBR and propose amendments to address the significant gaps in the legislation and challenges that remain for victims and survivors of crime.

It has come to my attention that Justice Committee Meetings scheduled for June 10, 2021, for the purpose of hearing from victim serving organizations in relation to the study of the CVBR have been cancelled and not expected to be rescheduled. I am deeply disappointed by this, as we cannot have a conversation about the CVBR without the voices of victims and those working on the front lines to support victims across the criminal justice system.

Hearing from victims’ advocacy groups and victim services providers working on the frontlines to support victims across the criminal justice system is essential to understanding how the CVBR has been implemented on the ground, and the gaps that persist for survivors.

I would also take this opportunity to address another issue. It seems there is thought being given to including children of incarcerated offenders in the definition of ‘victims’ of the crime committed by their parent (not against their child).

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic or stressful events occurring in the first 18 years of life.1 ACEs are associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, including physical and mental health challenges, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, substance misuse, and criminal offending.2 As noted during my appearance before the Committee, I recognize that having a parent incarcerated falls into the list of commonly recognized ACEs, as it can undoubtedly have a harmful effect on a child. Evidence shows that ACEs may be mitigated by positive interpersonal experiences with family and friends, and by building resilience and other protective factors. I strongly believe that children must be protected and supported. The mitigation of ACEs is key at the community level through social supports and programs.

The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights is simply not the right place to address or respond to the needs of children of offenders, as its aim is to provide rights and protections in law to direct victims of crime in the context of criminal justice proceedings. In fact, as currently written, the CVBR provides no guarantee of support services or financial assistance to victims of crime at all, so despite being a victim of crime you can be denied support services. In my view, expanding the definition of “victim” to include children of offenders, where they have not offended against their own family, would dilute the original intent of the legislation.

I remain available to provide advice and support to the Committee in its important work on this matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime