*Update – In April 2015, the federal government passed Bill C-32, the Victims Bill of Rights Act. This law made a number of changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Many of these changes came into effect in July 2015. However, as of June 1st, 2016, upon request, victims can:
- receive information from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) about an offender’s correctional plan and progress toward meeting the objectives of the plan;
- have CSC provide access to a photograph of the offender prior to certain releases into the community; and
- request access from the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to listen to an audio recording of a parole hearing if unable to attend in person.
CSC and PBC have also modernized how registered victims can access information with the official launch of the Victims Portal on June 1, 2016. The Victim’s Portal is a secure website where registered victims may obtain information about the federal offenders who harmed them. Victims may use the Portal in addition to, or instead of, the current methods of communication by phone and mail. The Portal will also allow registered victims to manage their information and preferences online. For further information about the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and the other legislation that is currently in effect, please visit CSC’s Victim Services website or PBC’s website.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights
Enacted on July 23rd, 2015, the Act creates clear rights for victims of crime, and requires said rights to be considered during each step of the criminal justice system. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights provides 4 principal rights to victims. These include:
1) Right to information:
– Victims will be able to obtain information about the criminal justice system, as well as available victim services and resources. In addition, victims can receive information about the investigation, sentencing, and prosecution of the person who harmed them.
– Victims who have registered with the Parole Board of Canada or Correctional Service Canada can access information about the offender who harmed them including: release dates, progress updates, conditions that may affect them and copies of Parole Board decisions.
2) Right to protection:
– Victims will have the right to have their security, identity, and privacy protected. Victims will also be protected from retaliation and intimidation.
– When testifying in court, victims will have the right to request testimonial aids such as: assistance from a support person, testifying by video (CCTV), or testifying from behind a screen.
3) Right to participation:
– Victims have the right to prepare and deliver Victim Impact Statements.
– Victims have the right to express their views about the court’s decisions that affect their rights.
4) Right to seek restitution:
– Courts must consider restitution to the victim in all cases. Victims have the opportunity to describe and claim financial losses. Judges can order restitution for a number of reasons including: psychological harm, physical harm, temporary housing/childcare costs, and identity theft.
REMEDIES for breaches of rights:
When a victim believes that his or her rights have been breached, the victim would first file a complaint with the appropriate federal department or agency. The legislation includes a requirement for all federal departments and agencies that have responsibilities under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights to have internal complaint mechanisms accessible to victims that would review complaints, make recommendations to correct any infringement, and notify victims about the results of the review. Complaints regarding a provincial or territorial agency, including police, Crown, or victim services, would be addressed in accordance with the applicable provincial or territorial legislation.
Important additional information about the CVBR:
The Victims Bill of Rights Act defines a victim of crime as any individual who has suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage, or economic loss as a result of an offence committed under the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, and also applies to some offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The rights are only available to a victim who is in Canada, or who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident.
The following individuals may exercise a victim’s rights when a victim is dead or incapable of acting on his or her behalf:
– The victim’s spouse or an individual cohabiting with the victim in a conjugal relationship for at least one year prior to the victim’s death;
– A relative or dependant of the victim; and,
– Anyone who has custody of the victim or of the victim’s dependant.
The above would not apply in cases where the person has been charged, convicted, or found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder for the offence that resulted in the victimization. For example, if a parent has been charged with abuse of a child, that parent would not be allowed to exercise the child victim’s rights.
A victim would be able to exercise the rights proposed in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights while an offence is being investigated or prosecuted, or while the offender is subject to the corrections or conditional release process. For cases in which an accused has been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the victim would be able to exercise the rights while the accused is under the jurisdiction of a court or Review Board.
If there is an inconsistency between the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and any other federal Act enacted on or after the day that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights comes into force, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights would prevail. In cases where the inconsistency is with the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Official Languages Act, the Access to Information Act, or the Privacy Act, the rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights will be balanced with these other quasi-constitutional rights.
Limitations to exercising rights:
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights includes a limitation clause to specify that the proposed rights are to be applied in a reasonable manner so they do not interfere with police or prosecutorial discretion, cause excessive delay, compromise an investigation or prosecution, or cause a stay of proceedings. As well, the rights are not to endanger the life or safety of any individual, interfere with ministerial discretion, interfere with the discretion that may be exercised by any person or body authorized to release an offender into the community, or cause injury to international relations or national defence or security. This limitation clause is intended to ensure that the rights are interpreted and applied in a way that addresses victims’ concerns while not over-burdening the criminal justice system.
Nothing in this proposed legislation would permit an individual to enter Canada or to remain in Canada longer than a previously authorized period, nor would it delay or prevent the removal of an individual or delay extradition proceedings.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights does not grant a victim, or anyone acting on the victim’s behalf, the status of a party, intervener, or observer in any criminal proceedings. An infringement of any of the rights included in the legislation would not create a cause of action, a right to damages, or a right of appeal from any decision or order.
OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL OMBUDSMAN FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) is an independent resource for victims in Canada. The Office was created in 2007 to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime.
Victims can contact the Office to learn more about their rights under federal law and the services available to them, or to make a complaint about any federal agency or federal legislation dealing with victims of crime. In addition to its direct work with victims, the Office also works to ensure that policy makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims’ needs and concerns and to identify important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman may also make recommendations to the federal government.