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Legal and Constitutional Affairs: Bill C-14

Witness: Ms. Sue O’Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Appearing March 26, 2014, 4:15 PM EST

Greeting

  • Bonjour, Monsieur le président et chers membres du Comité.
  • Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss Bill C-14  which seeks to enhance public  safety and better meet the needs of victims in cases where an accused is determined to be not criminally responsible or NCR.

Victims’ experience

  • Our discussion today focuses on legislation specific to those found to be not criminally responsible.
  • I would like to start by suggesting that throughout all of the discussions pertaining to this Bill that we keep in mind that the trauma any victim faces following any violent crime, regardless of whether the accused is found to be not criminally responsible or a convicted offender, is in all cases, devastating.
  • Regardless of the mental condition of an accused, victims have needs that must be met and their treatment and rights should be equitable to victims where the accused goes through the criminal justice and corrections systems.
  • We know that all victims will need:
    • to be treated with respect;
    • to be informed of how the process works and their role within it;
    • to have their needs and input be considered; and
    • to be protected from intimidation or harm.

Bill C-14

Position on the Bill

  • My Office has, on several occasions, spoken with victims and victim advocates who have brought their concerns regarding the issue of not criminally responsible to our attention. 
  • Through these discussions, we have identified several significant gaps in legislation and policy which ultimately carry negative impacts on both the victims directly and, more broadly, on public safety. 
  • I have used these as the basis for previous recommendations to the Government of Canada.
  • I am encouraged to see that Bill C-14 addresses a number of our previous recommendations and I strongly support those proposed changes, including:
    • ensuring that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process for not criminally responsible cases;
    • addressing victim safety directly by requiring the court and the Review Board to consider whether it is desirable in the interests of the safety and security of any person, particularly a victim or witness, to impose a non-communication order or to require that the accused refrain from going to particular locations; and
    • notifying victims who request it, of conditional or absolute discharges. 

Recommendations to further strengthen the Bill

  • While I support many measures in Bill C-14, there are opportunities to further strengthen the proposed legislation.
  • As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, regardless of the mental state of the accused, victims have certain basic needs – the need to be informed of the process and their rights within it, and the need to have their safety considered.
  • Victims in NCR cases have significantly fewer entitlements to information than those whose offenders move through the corrections and conditional release system.
  • To address this gap, I recommend that Bill C-14 be further enhanced to ultimately provide victims in NCR cases with more equitable rights to those of victims whose offenders are moving through the criminal justice or corrections systems.
  • Specifically, I recommend the Bill be amended to include the following rights in cases where it does not pose a safety risk to the accused, the facility or an individual and only in cases where the victim requests the information:
    • that victims be advised of the location of the forensic facility where the accused is detained
    • that victims be given advance notice of any scheduled absence, either escorted or unescorted, from the hospital and the general destination (the city or town) to which the accused will be travelling
    • that victims be given advance notice of the destination of release or conditional discharge, or if the accused will be travelling to the vicinity of the victims on conditional discharge
    • that the victims be informed of any conditions of release for the accused when they are conditionally discharged into the community.  This may include such things as: mandated medication or treatment, non-communication with children or others, the requirement to attend treatment sessions, general mobility restrictions and more.
    • That victims be given advance notice of any scheduled transfer to another facility, of a change in level of security of their ward, or if the accused is moved to another province/territory for the purposes of treatment.
  • In addition to these measures, I also recommend that, upon request:
    • victims be given a chance to view – but not retain – a photo of the accused at the time of release;
    • victims be notified when there are additional or increased restrictions on liberties placed on the accused – such as when the accused is brought back into the facility or has been transferred from a minimum to medium or maximum security unit; and that
    • victims be notified when non-communication orders are put in place.
  • Finally, there are two points I would like to make which touch on provincial matters, but which I feel must be considered in light of this Bill.
  • First, it is my understanding that not all provinces and territories necessarily have a system in place to ensure victim notification. 
      • I would submit for consideration the need to ensure that these rights are implemented effectively and that there are clear roles and processes in place in each province or territory to ensure victims receive the notifications they are entitled to.
      • Without these systems in place to ensure that victims are, in fact, being notified, a codified right to notification becomes notional.
  • Secondly, one of the concerns I hear most often from victims is about the level of supervision of the accused once he or she is integrated back into the community.  While this may not be an element that can be addressed at this stage, I do feel these are valid concerns which bear examining in the context of enhancing Canada’s NCR system.

Conclusion

  • In conclusion, I strongly support Bill C-14’s proposal to ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration in decision-making related to release of an accused, and the inclusion of further measures to enhance victims’ rights.
  • With the addition of the further measures recommended, I believe that Bill C-14 will help ensure more equitable rights for victims of crime in cases where an accused is found to be not criminally responsible.
  • All victims of crime deserve to be informed, considered and protected, regardless of the mental state of the person who harmed them.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
  • I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.