Remarks: Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Ombudsman Sue O’Sullivan, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
February 4, 2015 5:00 – 6:30 PM
- Bonjour, Monsieur le président et chers membres du comité.
- Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims).
- I would like to begin by providing you an overview of my Office’s mandate.
- Created in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime helps victims in two main ways: individually, and collectively.
- We help victims individually by speaking with them every day, answering their questions and addressing their complaints.
- We help victims collectively by reviewing important issues and making recommendations to the Federal Government on how to improve its laws, policies or programs, to better support victims of crime.
- I would like to begin today by thanking Mr. Sweet for his work on this bill and for his efforts to recognize the valuable role that victims of crime have to play in the Canadian criminal justice system.
- It is clear to me that the intention of Bill C-479 is to make the corrections and conditional release system more considerate and inclusive of victims of crime.
- The Bill puts forward some valuable changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would significantly enhance victims’ treatment and consideration in the process, and I fully support these aspects of the Bill.
- Many of the changes are in line with recommendations that our Office has made in the past. I am also pleased that some of the recommendations we made at the Committee on Public Safety and National Security were included in the Victim’s Bill of Rights.
- That being said, there are some modifications that would further strengthen the Bill and I would like to share those with the committee today.
CHANGES TO THE INFORMATION VICTIMS RECEIVE
- Bill C-479 aims to address the lack of information victims receive about the offender who harmed them by providing information pertaining to the offender’s correctional plan and by amending section 142 of the CCRA.
- While I support both of these changes in relation to information provided, there are two things that could strengthen these new provisions.
- First, even with the changes to section 142 of the CCRA outlined in this Bill, some information remains at the Board’s discretion to provide to the victim. In keeping with my previous recommendations, I encourage members to consider amending the Bill so that all information currently listed as discretionary under section 142 is disclosed to the victim automatically unless there is a relevant safety or security reason not to.
- Second, many victims have expressed the desire to be informed of the commission of any new criminal code offences by the offender while under the supervision of the CSC. We recommend that the Bill be amended to ensure that victims receive this information, either as part of the correctional plan or in a format deemed appropriate.
CHANGES IN THE VICTIM’S ROLE IN THE PAROLE PROCESS
- While ensuring that victims are properly informed is essential, it is equally important to create opportunities for victims to participate in the process and to create an environment to encourage that participation.
- This means providing choices and options for how victims can choose to participate in the criminal justice system without feeling intimidated or fearful, and without causing significant disruption to their lives and finances.
- One example of this is a parole hearing.
- In the current system attending or observing a parole hearing in real time is the only way that a victim can obtain the most complete information about the offender who harmed them and the progress they have made.
- While some victims will find it important and even necessary to face their offender in person at a parole hearing, others may find this idea intimidating or generally undesirable.
- Only in exceptional circumstances can victims request to attend the hearing via video conferencing technology or closed-circuit television. Attending by secure web cast or audio feed is not an option.
- Bill C-479 aims to address this gap by proposing that in cases where a victim or a member of his or her family has been denied the ability attend a hearing, the Board shall allow for the victim or family member to observe the hearing by any means considered appropriate by the Board.
- I would recommend two modifications to this proposal.
1. That the wording be amended so that it doesn’t merely permit victims to “observe” the hearing, but to participate by reading their prepared victim statements; and
2. That the option for a victim to observe/participate in a hearing by other means be extended to all victims, regardless of whether or not they have been denied attendance.
- We must keep in mind that for some victims, work commitments, child care, caring for elderly parents or family members, financial restraints or their own emotional anxiety about being within close proximity to the offender may prohibit them from attending a hearing.
- This lack of options for attending a parole hearing in and of itself wouldn't be as problematic if a victim who did not attend the hearing had choices and options for reviewing the proceedings at a later date.
- Bill C-479 recognizes this need and attempts to address it by providing a transcript to the victim or family member if one has been made.
- Unfortunately, while this clause has the victims’ needs in mind, the OFOVC understands that it is not currently the practice for transcripts to be made. Instead audio recordings are kept as records of the parole hearing proceedings.
- Knowing that transcripts are not made, I had previously recommended that victims be granted access to listen to, but not keep, audio recordings of the parole hearings and that there be funding for victims to travel to the locations where the recordings are stored, as necessary.
- I was glad to see that portions of this recommendation were included in the Victims Bill of Rights, however the issue was only partially addressed as the Victims Bill of Rights only allows access to audio recordings for victims who did not attend a hearing.
- I therefore reiterate my recommend that the option to access audio recordings should be available to all victims, whether they attend a hearing or not.
- In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my support for Bill C-479 and to commend efforts to address some of the gaps in information, participation and consideration that currently exist in our system for victims of crime.
- That being said, I believe that with the modifications I have suggested today the Bill could significantly help to enhance the treatment of victims of crime in Canada.
- I thank you for your time and look forward to any questions you may have.