Board expects pilot project to be available across Canada by year’s end
The Parole Board of Canada has launched a videoconferencing technology pilot project to enable victims in Ontario and Quebec to take part in hearings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board consulted with public health authorities to develop this pilot as a part of its commitment to the health and safety of the Board members and staff, of offenders and of the public, according to a news release from Public Safety Canada. The Board hopes to apply this videoconferencing solution across Canada by the end of this year, the news release said.
“Victims play an integral role in the conditional release process of offenders, and the Government of Canada and the Parole Board remain committed to respecting and protecting victims’ rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights,” said Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair in the news release.
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime also issued a statement in support of the development of this pilot. OFOVC Ombudsman Heidi Illingworth said the solution would promote inclusivity, accessibility and a greater respect for the needs and the lived experiences of victims.
Registered victims had conveyed numerous complaints to the Office about how their participation in such hearings had been limited to teleconference or cancelled entirely in light of the pandemic, Illingworth said.
“Victims and their families wanted to see the offender, other participants and deliver their victim statements to Board members they were addressing,” Illingworth said in the statement.
The Office addressed these complaints by recommending that the Board enable victims to remotely participate in hearings via secure videoconferencing.
“I believe modernizing the Board’s capacity and infrastructure, as other courts and tribunals across Canada have done in light of COVID-19, is fair and should remain available to victims after the pandemic has ended,” Illingworth said.
The Parole Board of Canada has offered victims the option to be involved in hearings by telephone as a part of its pandemic response. Victims would submit a completed Request to Observe a Hearing form, then the Board’s regional communications officers would inform the victims about how they could participate.
Victims would listen to the hearing via telephone and present their statements, which the Board members would then take into account when making their decision. Board members are required by law to consider all the relevant and available information, including statements given by victims of crime regardless of the format of such statements, when reaching their decision.