1. Victims’ Rights & Standing for Victims of Crime
Even with the coming into force of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights in 2015, an imbalance exists between the protection of rights afforded to those accused or convicted of crime in Canada and those people who are harmed by it. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides constitutional protections to persons accused of crime, whereas the rights provided to victims are legislatively-based. Crime victims in Canada must be guaranteed a certain standard of treatment, as per the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985) including redress for pain, loss and injury and dignity, respect and participation at all stages of the criminal justice process.
Victim participation is not a new concept; originally, victims were an integral part of our criminal justice system because they were the ones to bring the prosecution of the offender. The CRCVC believes standing for victims of crime is important because it allows the victim to step out of the witness role and have a role that is more substantial. When their personal interests and safety are affected, they 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 and able to enforce their rights. Victim participation or standing means a victim would be given formal or party status within the criminal court to defend their interests, just as the prosecutor pursues the interests of the state and the defence counsel pursues the interests of the accused.
2. Canadian Victims Bill of Rights Review
On November 25th, 2020, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) released a Progress Report on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) and called upon Parliament to conduct its Statutory Review of the legislation.
The CRCVC endorses the work of the OFOVC and the progress report on the CVBR which highlights the failure of the current Act in empowering crime victims across Canada.
To date, the CRCVC has created two petitions to encourage a Statutory Review of the CVBR. In November 2020, the CRCVC organized a petition encouraging local Members of Parliament to table a parliamentary review of the CVBR. Each signature sent an automated email to the appropriate Member of Parliament in the signee’s specific electoral district. The email included information and context of the experience of victims of crime in Canada, along with the need for the CVBR to be reviewed. Additionally, we asked for MP’s to please support a Parliamentary review of the CVBR, to empower victims, and place them at the center of the criminal justice system.
The CRCVC has been working tirelessly to ensure the voices of victims of crime in Canada are heard. After reaching out to all Canadian MPs, Paul Manly, MP of Nanaimo-Lady Smith, British Columbia and his office helped bring a petition forward. The e-3307 petition opened for signatures on March 31st, 2021 at 10:01 AM (EDT). This petition was designed to call upon the House of Commons to order the review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights as required by the Act itself, legitimately and wholly taking into consideration the 15 recommendations put forth by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime in their 2020 Progress Report.
The CRCVC will continue encouraging the Canadian government to review the CVBR and will update this space with any new developments.
3. Improving the Corrections and Parole Systems in Canada
The CRCVC believed the corrections and parole systems in Canada can be strengthened by the following recommendations:
- Replace Statutory Release with Earned Parole. It has been well documented by corrections research that the conditional releases with the highest success rates are those that rely on the judgments of professionals and are based on proper risk assessments that focus on public safety, where the lowest success rates are for those releases by law, including statutory release.
- All conditional release decisions for first- and second-degree murderers that are not made by the parole board, should be made available to victims in writing and include information about the risk assessment process.
- Federal corrections should provide registered victims with the reasons why an offender’s parole has been suspended when it occurs. Not knowing the reasons why an offender has been returned to custody leaves victims living with worry, stress, and in fear for their safety in some cases.
We will continue to advocate for these systems to be strengthened to empower victims of crime while they navigate the criminal justice system.
4. Electronic Hearings
In mid-March of 2020, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) updated policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the PBC announced they would be conducting hearings remotely by means of videoconferencing, and would not be facilitating victim and observer attendance.
The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime strongly and successfully advocated for alternative methods for victims to meaningfully participate in parole hearings. CRCVC’s executive director, Aline Vlasceanu wrote a letter to Bill Blair, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness supporting victims Right to Participation and to have their voices heard. The CRCVC successfully advocated for victims to participate in parole hearings via teleconferencing to ensure victims have a meaningful and active role throughout the criminal justice process.
Advocating for victims of crime to participate in hearings remains a top and on-going priority for the CRCVC.
5. Creation of a National Program for Financial Assistance for Victims of Violent Crime
The responsibility of providing financial assistance to persons victimized by violent crime currently rests with the provinces. This system is inequitable because programs do not exist in all of the provinces and territories and where programs do exist, they offer very differing levels of assistance. A national program of financial assistance would create standardized levels of assistance and ensure that all Canadians have equal access to financial support in their recovery and healing following violent victimization. Across Canada, we provided only $146 million in compensation to 19,000 applicants (78% approved) yet victim services served 460,000 victims – with only $161 million for direct services to victims (2011/12 Victim Services Survey).
6. Financial Support for Non-government Organizations that Serve Crime Victims
Federal funding is needed to allow non-government agencies working to support and empower innocent Canadians harmed by violent crime to continue to operate. Sustaining funding is needed (at the same level as provided to groups working on behalf of criminal offenders) for victim serving organizations in order to allow them to continue offering vital advocacy, support/counselling programs, and information resources to their clients.
7. Inauguration of the CRCVC’s Victims Advisory Committee
The CRCVC Victims Advisory Committee is comprised of victims and survivors of crime with the purpose of providing input on substantive issues the CRCVC is working on; as well as providing advice and recommendations on institutional, governmental, and cultural change as they affect Canadian victims and survivors of crime.
Reporting to the CRCVC Board of Directors, the VAC is designed to be both proactive and responsive in providing advice to the CRCVC Board of Directors and Executive Director. The VAC brings the strength, resilience and lived experience of anyone has been impacted by violence in order to:
- Provide a voice for any Canadian who is a victim or survivor of a crime in Canada and abroad;
- Provide advice to ensure all levels of Government are accountable for their responses to the needs of Canadian victims and survivors of crime;
- Advise on specific reforms and initiatives that benefit all victims and survivors; and,
- Ensure any recommendations recognize and reflect Canada’s diverse population.