Both the federal and provincial governments play an equally important role with regard to victims of crime. While the federal government enacts and reforms criminal law (mainly in the Criminal Code), it is the provinces who have the responsibility of the enforcement, administration and prosecution of those laws.
The federal government has given victims the following rights:
- The right to have input at sentencing (e.g. victim impact statements presented orally or in writing). Judges are required to ask Crowns if the victim has been informed of their right to complete an impact statement. If the victim chooses to prepare a victim impact statement, it must be taken into consideration by the sentencing judge.
- Police and judges must consider the safety of victims in all bail decisions.
- Young victims and witnesses are protected from personal cross examination by accused persons representing themselves.
- Victims and witnesses are permitted to have a support person present when giving testimony.
- Judges are permitted to ban the publication of the identity of victims and witnesses in appropriate circumstances.
- Victims have the right to obtain information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the offender. They may also attend federal parole hearings and submit victim impact statements to the parole board (in writing, orally, or by audio/video tape.
All of the provinces and territories have legislation relating to victims of crime. Some of the legislation includes principles that apply to the treatment of victims and are generally based on the 1985 United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime, such as:
- Victims should be treated with respect, courtesy and compassion;
- Victims should be notified of all court proceedings related to the offence;
- Victims should be informed of services, given information about the justice system and the progress of the case;
- Victims should be protected from harassment/intimidation;
- Victims should receive prompt and fair redress for the harm they suffered; and
- Victims’ views should be considered.
If you are a victim of crime these principles apply to you. You may obtain further information about them through your police department, the Crown Attorney’s office or any non-government victims’ agency.
It is important to note that most provincial/territorial legislation does not give victims true ‘rights’; they are really statements of principles as to what victims ‘should’ have. Most of the legislation is non-committal and does not provide a complaint mechanism for victims (except for Manitoba). The language of the legislation uses terms such as “victims should have access to…” or “Subject to limits…” It does not truly entrench the right of victims to receive services or be guaranteed a certain type of treatment. Thus, the rights of crime victims are not truly enforceable.
Canada has Federal Ombudsman for Victim of Crime whose office is mandated to:
- facilitate access of victims to existing federal programs and services by providing them with information and referrals;
- address complaints of victims about compliance with the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that apply to victims of offenders under federal supervision and providing an independent resource for those victims;
- enhance awareness among criminal justice personnel and policy makers of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime, including to promote the principles set out in the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime; and
- identify emerging issues and exploring systemic issues that impact negatively on victims of crime.