VII. Victims’ rights in the forensic mental health system

How do victims find out about Review Board hearings?

The procedure varies by region, but generally, when the Review Board sets a date for the initial disposition hearing, it informs the victim directly or victim services, who in turn inform the victim1. The victim may then register if they want to know the date and location of the hearing and to be informed of future hearings. The Review Board will communicate with the victim or victim services about the dates of hearings and the outcomes of those hearings. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be a dedicated victim service mandated to provide support through the Review Board process (for example, in Ontario it is the Victim Witness Assistance Program). Victims should contact their provincial/territorial Review Board or their local victim services to find out if similar support resources are available in their region, and how to contact this office.

Do victims have any role at the Review Board hearings?

Yes. If victims wish, they can prepare a written victim impact statement which is given to the Review Board Chair for distribution (which includes a copy for the patient and his/her lawyer) and consideration at the hearing2. If there is a significant change in the information on how the crime has affected them, victims may update their victim impact statements for subsequent Review Board hearings. The Review Board will consider victim impact statements as one of several factors in determining the disposition of the patient in NCRMD cases. It should be noted that the victim impact statement is subject to review by the Review Board, prior to being submitted at a hearing, and that it may be subject to censure if there is information that is deemed not relevant, or inflammatory. For example, if the victim calls the offender names or in extreme cases, threatens him/her, the statement may be edited. This censoring can be very upsetting to victims when it happens. The Board provides little guidance to victims about what to include in their statement, so victims who are unsure about what to include should seek assistance from the appropriate victim services agency.

May victims read their victim impact statement at Review Board hearings?

Victims can indicate, in their victim impact statements, that they would like to read their statements at Review Board hearings3. The Review Board has discretion to permit victims to present their statements orally. Victims should be aware that they might only receive a few days notice for hearings, and that victim impact statements need to be submitted in advance of the hearing. It is recommended that any victim who feels they may want to submit a statement begin working on it in advance of the expected hearing date (generally annually, at approximately the same time of year).

If the victim has permission to attend a hearing is there any financial help available for travel?

Depending on the province or territory where the patient lives, there may be financial assistance available. Currently, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Ontario provide financial assistance to victims to attend Review Board hearings for patients who have been found UST or NCRMD. Information on eligibility and what expenses are covered should be confirmed with the appropriate agency prior to making travel arrangements.

Victims must make their own travel arrangements in all provinces and territories, even if the Review Board agrees to the victim’s request to present his or her victim impact statement at the hearing.

What if victims only want information about Review Board outcomes?

If victims do not wish to make victim impact statements or attend hearings in person, they can still get information about the outcome of hearings. They can do so through the Review Board, the Crown’s office, or the local office of their provincial/territorial victim services. Most Review Boards will release their “reasons for decision” several weeks after the hearing; these are also available upon request4.

Can victims get other information about an NCRMD patient?

Yes. In addition to being notified of hearing dates, locations and outcomes, victims may also be informed of the following5:

  • If the patient is on conditional discharge in the community, the name of the community;
  • If the patient is hospitalized, the name of the facility;
  • If the patient is transferred to another province for treatment purposes;
  • If the patient dies while detained in a psychiatric hospital.

Most Review Boards will publish their “reasons for decision” several weeks after the hearing. These can be obtained on request, and generally contain a great deal of information regarding the patient’s treatment plan.

Can the victim see the patient’s medical records?

The victim does not have access to the patient’s medical files and psychiatric reports. These are confidential personal health documents. The victim is only entitled to information on the status of the patient as outlined above. When a patient receives an absolute discharge, under privacy laws, the victim no longer has access to information. However, depending on the circumstances, the Review Board may release limited information such as notifying victims of a patient’s release date.

Eric’s story

When my son was only 20 years old, he killed a woman in her home. The victim was no stranger to him; she was his mother.

At the time of the murder, my son was in a severe psychotic state, operating in a false world created by delusions and hallucinations that had haunted him for years. He was eventually found not criminally responsible for his mother’s death.

The incident shattered our family life. We had to learn to live with a loss of such magnitude while also having compassion for the person who was the killer.

My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a devastating, incurable brain disorder before he killed his mother. We observed his erratic behaviour and delusions, which caused him to believe that people were reading his mind, for example. He also had auditory hallucinations, which made him hear voices that did not exist but seemed very real and terrifying to him.

His siblings and I feel that he was not to blame for what happened, he was helpless and it was the illness that was to blame. Since schizophrenia can be managed with medication and psychotherapy, we have supported him and visited him often in the psychiatric hospital.

I do however believe he should never have an absolute discharge, which is a permanent release without any conditions or supervision. I think my son should be monitored for the rest of his life. I feel there is always a risk for a slip…that he might lose insight and go off his medication.

How long will the victim continue to get notices about hearings and other information?

The victim will continue to be notified of hearings and outcomes for as long as he or she wishes to receive annual review information or until the Review Board has given the patient an absolute discharge. The onus is on the victim to notify victim services or the Review Board of any changes in address, or if there are changes in their wishes for notification.

Dealing with media attention

Depending on the seriousness of the crime, there may be attention from the media surrounding a case. Victims may choose to speak to the media directly, appoint a lawyer or friend to act as a spokesperson, or may simply prefer to not respond. It is always within a victim’s rights to say no to an interview or to a particular question.

Once a victim chooses to comment in the media, journalists will likely seek them out on anniversaries, when other similar cases arise, or at annual review hearings. It is recommended to speak with the Crown and victim services before sharing any information that may be deemed private. It is important to note that the media will gather information from a number of different sources, and what is reported in the end may be different from what the victim expects, may lack sensitivity or blame the victims for what happened. Victims should carefully consider their privacy (and that of their family) before engaging with the media. The CRCVC has written a guide to help victims in their interactions with the media, it can be found at https://crcvc.ca/publications/if-the-media-calls/.

  1. Criminal Code, R.S.C 1985, c. C-46, s. 672.5(5.1)
  2. Criminal Code, R.S.C 1985, c. C-46, s. 672.541
  3. Criminal Code, R.S.C 1985, c. C-46, s. 672.5(15.1)
  4. Criminal Code, R.S.C 1985, c. C-46, s. 672.52(3)
  5. Criminal Code, R.S.C 1985, c. C-46, s. 672.5(5.2)

My name is Donna McCully.

It was always our wish to live in Jamaica in our dream home. So, in August 2012, my husband Sedrick Levine and I left Canada to move into our new home. We were thrilled to finally be starting the next chapter in our lives, in Sedrick’s beloved homeland. He bought a little bus and planned to operate tours for visitors to the island. I was helping him run this business venture, as part of our semi- retirement in Jamaica.

My life as I knew it was suddenly shattered when two masked men broke into our home on Sunday, November 17, 2013. Sedrick struggled with the men, allowing me to flee upstairs to call the police. His actions saved my life that day, and that of my father and his housekeeper, who were visiting us at the time. One of the masked intruders chased me upstairs and kicked in the bathroom door, but he stopped when he heard a gunshot from downstairs.

My husband Sedrick was killed that day and the men fled our home with a laptop. The Jamaican police have not yet found these men or charged them with killing my beloved husband. Their motive remains unknown.

This crime has completely changed my life. I suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder now and have depression as a result. I came back to Canada, but I feel very isolated since this happened. These emotional scars may never heal.

I managed to find the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime by searching online one day. I didn’t know where to turn for help when I came home to Canada. The CRCVC has provided me with a lot of emotional support, which has been tremendously helpful. They’ve also written numerous letters to Jamaican officials seeking justice for Sedrick, as well as intervening with Canadian officials on my behalf. The office also helped connect me to a trauma therapist for counselling sessions too.

In order to try and make sense of what happened to Sedrick, it is my hope that others could support the work of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. There are so many other victims/survivors out there who also need their assistance.