Review of victims bill of rights is overdue: ombudsman

Bill should be implemented via robust reporting, monitoring, evaluation, says Heidi Illingworth

Review of victims bill of rights is overdue: ombudsman

The federal ombudsman for victims of crime has called on the government to strengthen the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, SC 2015, c 13, s 2 to improve public safety and confidence in the criminal justice system.

“Only when victims’ rights in law are respected fully will we help victims recover, increase access to justice, and enhance public safety,” said Heidi Illingworth in a statement marking the legislation’s sixth anniversary.

The government should undertake the “overdue” statutory review of the bill, with a view to improving accountability and supports across the justice system, and should commit to fully implementing the bill through robust reporting, monitoring and evaluation, she said.

Illingworth urged people to join in her office’s call to action by sharing with their Member of Parliament her office’s progress report on the legislation, which was issued on Nov. 25, 2020 and included 15 recommendations informed by the lived experiences of victims and survivors of crime and by the office’s work with stakeholders.

Among these recommendations, the report suggested:

  • amending the Act to offer victims of crime two mechanisms of accountability: judicial review and the administrative right to review decisions not to prosecute;
  • amending ss. 6, 7 and 8 to ensure a proactive approach to upholding the legal rights of victims;
  • amending s. 20 to ensure the interpretation of the legislation will compel all officials to acknowledge victims’ human rights to security of the person, to receive access to justice and to be accorded procedural fairness;
  • deleting ss. 27, 28 and 29, which deny victims standing to appeal to courts for review if their rights have not been upheld.

The ombudsman’s office found the bill included numerous fundamental gaps and challenges for victims and survivors and limitations on victims’ rights, which made it more of a symbolic instrument, instead of a guarantee of enforceable rights. According to the report, victims now lack legal or administrative mechanisms of accountability and must proactively seek information from officials regarding their rights,.

The report also found inconsistency in the implementation of the legislation and in the collection and publication of data on victims, as well as insufficient work to systematically inform citizens of their rights. There were also limited training opportunities and no clear roles and responsibilities assigned to criminal justice personnel and officials with regard to the delivery of victims’ rights.

The bill, which came into force on July 23, 2015, was intended to recognize victims’ rights in Canada’s criminal justice system and to provide victims and survivors with the rights to be protected, to access information about their case, to participate and air their views in processes affecting their rights, to seek restitution for losses, and to initiate complaints if they believe their rights have not been respected.

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