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Pushing for Further Change: Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime Issues Response to the Victims Bill of Rights

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 05/13/14 -- Sue O'Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime today held a press conference to release her response to the recently tabled Victims Bill of Rights.

In her response, the Ombudsman shares her view that the VBR marks a significant cultural shift in Canada's legislative landscape towards a system that more fully considers and integrates victims in Canada's criminal justice system, but cautions that the Bill could and should be strengthened to better meet the needs and concerns of victims of crime.

Facts


--  Since opening its doors in 2007, "victims rights" has been one of the
    top five issues of concern that Canadians contact the Office of the
    Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) to discuss.
--  The OFOVC has made dozens of recommendations to the Government on
    legislative and policy changes that would benefit victims of crime
    across Canada, including a recommendation to develop a comprehensive
    Victims' Bill.
--  As part of the Government's nation-wide consultation on the creation of
    a Victims Bill of Rights, the Office drew on its engagement with victims
    and stakeholders to develop, submit and publish recommendations for the
    rights and amendments that should be included in any prospective
    legislation.
--  Of the nearly 30 recommendations the Ombudsman made to the Government of
    Canada for inclusion in its Bill, only four have been fully addressed
    and another ten have been partially addressed.

Quotes

"The introduction of a Victims Bill of Rights marks a significant cultural shift in Canada towards a system that recognizes the important role that victims have to play and that more fully considers and integrates victims into Canada's criminal justice system," said Ms. Sue O'Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. "That being said, the Bill fails to fully address the breadth and depth of victims' needs and concerns. As the Bill moves through the Parliamentary process, I will be pushing for further change to strengthen the Bill and I encourage all Canadians to do the same."

Additional links:


--  Ombudsman's response to the Victims Bill of Rights
--  Backgrounder
--  OFOVC's submission to the Government of Canada re: the creation of the
    Victims Bill of Rights

Backgrounder: Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime Issues Response to the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights

On May 13, 2014 Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime released her response to the recently tabled Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (VBR).

In her response, the Ombudsman shares her view that the VBR marks a significant cultural shift in Canada's legislative landscape towards a system that more fully considers and integrates victims in Canada's criminal justice system, but cautions that the Bill could and should be strengthened to better meet the needs and concerns of victims of crime.

The document speaks to the benefits of the Bill, including the fact that for the first time Canada now has a legislative cornerstone from which to continue moving forward in enhancing victims' right. At the same time, the Ombudsman notes that of the nearly 30 recommendations her Office made to the Government of Canada for inclusion in its Bill, only four have been fully addressed and another ten recommendations have been partially addressed, leaving room for improvement.

Included in the full response paper is discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various elements of the Bill. A synopsis of some of those elements is included below.

Informing victims

Strengths:

Under the VBR victims will be given:


--  information about the investigation and proceedings and certain
    information about an offender or accused, upon request;
--  access to an offender's bail and/or probation order, upon request.
--  access to a recent photograph of the offender prior to conditional
    release; and
--  automatic access to the Parole Board of Canada's (PBC) Decision
    Registry.

Weaknesses:


--  The definition of who can act on behalf of a victim is restrictive in
    that it does not account for partners who do not live in a conjugal
    relationship with the victim or close friends, in cases where a victim
    may be disconnected from family.
--  While the VBR does provide for enhanced information-sharing, it does not
    outline the responsibilities for this in specific terms. Without this,
    there is a risk that agencies may fail to provide certain information to
    victims, as required. Outlining specific responsibilities would also
    serve to clarify for victims who to contact in order to request specific
    information, if required.
--  Similarly, the VBR does not address the fact that most victims are not
    aware of the need to register with the PBC or the Correctional Service
    of Canada (CSC) in order to receive information about the offender who
    harmed them. While informing victims of this obligation early on the
    process could be beneficial, most often victims find that when they are
    overwhelmed or in the early stages of the aftermath of a crime they will
    not properly absorb or retain this type of information. As such, the
    system should endeavour to provide the authority and opportunity for the
    appropriate departments and resources to proactively reach out to
    victims at a more opportune time in order to inform or remind them of
    their rights and to facilitate their registration, should the victim
    choose to register.
--  The provision of access to a photo of the offender does not apply in the
    case of escorted temporary absences.

Considering and protecting victims

Strengths:


--  The VBR provides a mandatory, standardized form to help victims fill out
    a "Victim Impact Statement" that will be presented in court. Providing
    victims with this form helps to ensure their statements reflect the full
    spectrum of how the crime has affected their lives and ensures more
    national consistency.
--  Under the proposed legislation, judges must consider the safety and
    security of the victim before bail.
--  The VBR introduces the requirement for the PBC to explain, in writing,
    why it has not imposed a non-communication order or geographical
    restriction in cases where a victim has expressed safety concerns or
    stated that they do not wish to have contact with the offender.

Weaknesses:


--  The VBR allows certain victims to be informed of a plea bargain, but it
    does not allow for victims to have input before a plea is accepted.
--  The proposed legislation does not address a victims' need for choice and
    options in attending/participating in a parole hearing (i.e. via
    teleconference, video-conference, closed-circuit video, etc).
--  The effectiveness of proposed enforcement regime of complaint resolution
    systems remains to be seen.
--  While the VBR permits a victim to be notified once an offender is
    deported from Canada before the expiration of their sentence, it does
    not permit a victim to submit and/or present a statement at Immigration
    Review Board hearings.

Supporting victims

Strengths:


--  Judges are now required to consider making a restitution order in all
    cases.

Weaknesses:


--  Under the VBR, victims who are still owed monies may enter as a
    judgement any amount ordered to be paid that remains unpaid under the
    order in any civil court in Canada. This still puts the onus on the
    victim to take steps to collect the money owed to them rather than have
    the authorities obtain the funds. Victims should not have to go to civil
    court to enforce a restitution order. Restitution is part of the
    offender's sentence, and structures should be in place to ensure those
    orders are enforced.

For more information, or to view the Ombudsman's full response, news release and more, please visit: www.victimsfirst.gc.ca

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