Letter addressed to Provincial and Territorial Attorney Generals on Seeking Support to Improve Victim’s Rights in the Administration of Justice
June 14, 2021
Attn: Provincial/Territorial Attorneys General
Cc: The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my mandate is to increase awareness of the needs and concerns of victims of crime, and to promote fair and equitable treatment for all victims and survivors of crime across Canada.
Given that the federal government and provincial/territorial governments (PTs) share responsibility for responding to victims of crime in Canada, I am writing to you as Attorney General, and to your PT colleagues, to seek your support in building consensus towards strengthening the rights of victims and survivors of crime in the administration of justice.
Of key concern to me is the fact that victims of crime report common complaints to my Office, no matter which jurisdiction they live in. Their lived experiences have commonalities and they report being disbelieved, being dismissed or disrespected when they come forward to seek justice and accountability. I believe that we must work together to address and respond to common issues and that coordination among jurisdictions is essential to achieve fairness and equity for victims.
I draw your attention to the Progress Report on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) https://victimsfirst.gc.ca/res/pub/PRCVBR-RECCDV/index.html published by my Office in 2020. The report examines the implementation of the legislation in the five years since it came into force and makes recommendations on how to strengthen respect for victims’ rights based on the common complaints and lived experiences of victims across all jurisdictions. We hope you will agree that there is an urgent need to address the commonly voiced complaints of victims as they access justice and participate in the justice proceedings, some of which are described below.
a) Information: The most common complaint received by my Office from victims and survivors of crime across Canada is that they often do not have access to the information they need and to which they are entitled by law. Across all jurisdictions in Canada, victims report not being kept informed of:
- the outcome of the police investigation;
- interim release of the accused;
- the date and timing of hearings in their case including Review Board or parole hearings;
- how to seek restitution;
- how to have their voice heard and actively participate in the justice process; and
- the availability of services and support, including restorative justice.
I ask you to remove the burden from those harmed by crime and violence to ask for information in their case. It is critical that all criminal justice officials be directed to inform victims of their statutory rights under the CVBR proactively.
I also recommend the development a province-wide or territorial-wide Victims’ Rights wallet card for police officers to provide to victims at their first encounter. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will soon roll out a card nationally that provides basic information to victims about their rights, together with contact information for victim service agencies. This card is a recommendation of our Progress Report because information is empowering and without it, victims cannot assert the other rights provided to them in law. In addition to police, prosecutors, Review Boards, corrections officials and victim service agencies could also share these cards with victims to ensure they have the information they need at each stage.
Adopting a Canada-wide proactive approach to informing victims of their rights in law will ensure that criminal justice professionals meet their obligations to victims and impacted survivors and family members know their rights. The onus must be removed from traumatized, marginalized, racialized or oppressed citizens to know to request such information from criminal justice authorities. It is simply unfair and impedes access to justice.
b) Collection and reporting of data: More information must be made publicly available about how victims’ statutory rights are delivered in the administration of justice. The data that is collected and reported vary widely across institutions and jurisdictions and are largely not comparable.
As most criminal trials are conducted in PT courts, courts are an ideal point for data collection, but we also need more data related to policing agencies, Mental Health Review Boards and corrections/parole. Some data are already collected and agencies/institutions must be required to collect data related to the rights enumerated in the CVBR. I recommend adopting a systematic approach common across all jurisdictions, recording identical indicators about victims of crime, with an emphasis on over-represented and targeted populations, such as racialized people, Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ persons.
c) Participation: Only five PT jurisdictions report to Statistics Canada on how many victim impact statements are introduced in court. These data indicate that relatively few victims choose to participate in this way. We do not know how many victims are informed of their right to make a victim impact statement at sentencing, nor do we know how many victims provide statements and participate in Review Board hearings.
Similarly, we do not know how many victims request and receive testimonial aids, publication bans, or any of the various forms of protection that are available to them. A checklist is an ideal means of tracking all of the rights afforded to victims in the CVBR and to enable reporting on PT compliance with victims’ rights.
In closing, it is my hope that we can attain consensus across all PTs of the need to recognize and address the common complaints and experiences of victims of crime in accessing justice. We can enhance victims’ experiences positively with a focus on delivering their rights in law. Jurisdictions can implement these relatively minor changes outlined above to existing policies and practices by directing justice officials to take a proactive approach to upholding the legal rights of victims and reporting publicly on how this is achieved.
In doing so, we will address many of the common complaints reported by victims as they access justice and participate in criminal proceedings and perhaps most importantly, we will fulfill our obligations under the CVBR. I would be very pleased to work with you and your colleagues to achieve these goals.
Heidi Illingworth (she/her/elle)
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime/l'Ombudsman fédérale des victimes d'actes criminels