Just in advance of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a new income support program for parents who take time off work to cope with the death of disappearance of a child as a result of a crime. The Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children is intended to help ease the financial hardship of parents struggling to cope with the death or disappearance of a child under 18 which occurred as a result of crime. This program will provide affected parents with $350 per week for up to 35 weeks.
At the federal symposium in Ottawa on April 23rd, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the government will increase funding to the Victim’s Fund by $7 million over five years, $5 million of which will be directed to the creation and enhancement of Child Advocacy Centres across Canada. Minister Nicholson also announced that the government has amended the terms and conditions of the Victims Fund to allow non-governmental groups serving victims to apply for time-limited operational funding, which is superb news for organizations like the CRCVC.
On April 24, the Minister of Justice announced the introduction of an act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge). The amendment will make convicted offenders more accountable to victims of crime by doubling the victim surcharge that offenders must pay, and ensuring that the surcharge is automatically applied in all cases. This recommendation was made by Steve Sullivan when he served as Canada’s first Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
On April 26, the federal government announced that it will provide $350,000 to establish a Child Advocacy Centre in Halifax. In addition, the Government will contribute more than $2 million in funding to the provincial government for programs to support victims of crime across Nova Scotia.
Victims Week 2012 was incredibly successful and encompassed more than 160 events and projects held in all the provinces and territories, with a federal government investment of more than $1.4 million.
The Honourable Rob Nicholson
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
The Honourable Vic Toews
Minister of Public Safety
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P8
The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC) is writing to you to reiterate our desire for the federal government to invest in victims of crime; particularly in the areas of services, rights and prevention.
We anxiously await the announcement of legislation that will make the Victim Fine Surcharge mandatory across Canada and double it. Victim services can be supported from coast to coast to coast by increasing the amount and application of the Victim Fine Surcharge and by allowing judges to award large fine surcharges on rich offenders as in the United States Federal Court.
We ask that you introduce legislation to amend the RCMP Act to require/mandate officers to offer survivors information about victim services, restitution and compensation. Policing is incredibly important to victims of crime and the RCMP must become a leader and inspiration to other police forces. There is a particular need to improve the way that victims of sexual assault are treated by police officers in order to increase reporting and to multiply child advocacy clinics from coast to coast. We propose that a set of principles be added to the RCMP Act based on the International Association of Chiefs of Police guidelines that clarify the importance of the quality of the response from RCMP to victims, including gender and child sensitive procedures and establishing an office reporting to the commissioner to resolve concerns that victims may have with the RCMP.
Restitution must be ordered more frequently in Canada and paid by offenders. We suggest an amendment to the Criminal Code to clarify how victims can request restitution, ways for the court to assess the ability of offenders to pay early on and require enforcement offices by courts, prison and parole/probation authorities when restitution is ordered. Though developed in the USA, the recommendations of the National Center for Victims of Crime may be helpful in drafting the provisions.
We ask that you remove judge imposed restrictions on Victim Impact Statements to allow victims to speak to their concerns for their safety, restitution and other aspects of sentences. Judges must also be required to talk to the concerns raised by victims in their sentence decisions. While judges in Canada are required to ask Crowns if they informed victims of their right to complete impact statements; we know this requirement is often overlooked due to the very low rate of VIS submitted in court.
We believe the federal government must ensure sexually assaulted women have access to legal aid lawyers when issues of privacy or personal dignity arise, like past sexual history or publication bans. The federal government could enhance legal aid funding targeted towards victims. We ask that the Criminal Code be amended to add a presumption that the personal medical/health and counselling records will not be released. We must work to address the very low levels of reporting of sexual assault in Canada and even lower rates of convictions for this offence.
We believe a Crime Reduction Board is necessary in Canada in order to reduce levels of harm and victimization. The World Health Organization has shown how violence has been reduced significantly by pre-crime prevention, such as helping teens at risk complete school, controlling the abuse of alcohol and improving parenting. A permanent Crime Reduction Board would benefit Canadians by implementing winning strategies from Winnipeg, Southwest Ontario, and Alberta from coast to coast. It would spearhead implementation, including a national framework and collaboration with provinces, municipal governments, police agencies and much more.
The CRCVC believes the Criminal Code should be amended to provide victims of crime formal party status in criminal court proceedings. Victims deserve a more substantial role than that of a witness, especially when their personal interests, restitution and safety are affected. Crime victims and survivors should be able to present their views and concerns, and have the right to legal representation so they are treated with courtesy, dignity, and respect. Victim participation or standing means a victim can defend their interests, just as the prosecutor pursues the interests of the state and the defence counsel pursues the interests of the accused.
Finally, we ask that you legislate the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to oversee the implementation of victims’ rights in Canada. The OFOVC should be empowered to monitor, protect, enforce and advance victims’ rights in Canada. Its mandate should be expanded to ensure that surveys are undertaken of the extent to which services are meeting the needs of victims as well as the development of legal jurisprudence on victim rights similar to the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) in the United States. Crime victims also need to be able to access civil remedies. The government of Canada should provide with the provinces a permanent fund to ensure expertise like NCVLI to bring civil prosecutions.
We thank you for your consideration.