The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights
On April 23, 2015, the Victims Bill of Rights Act, received Royal Assent. The majority of the provisions and amendments included in the Victims Bill of Rights Act, including the creation of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, and amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), Criminal Code, Canada Evidence Act, and Employment Insurance Act, came into force on July 23, 2015. Some of the amendments to the CCRA, however, came into force on June 1, 2016.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights provides the following rights to victims of crime:
- Right to information
- Right to protection
- Right to participation
- Right to seek restitution
Right to information
Victims have the right to receive information about the justice system, and about the services and programs available to them. Victims may also obtain specific information on the progress of the case, including information on the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of the person who harmed them.
Information Available to Victims
Victims may request information about:
- The criminal justice system and the role of victims;
- Available victim services and programs, including restorative justice programs; and,
- Their right to make a complaint if, in their opinion, their rights have not been respected.
Victims may also request information about their case, including:
- The status and outcome of the investigation;
- The scheduling, progress and final outcome of criminal proceedings;
- Any review of an offender’s conditional release, and the timing and conditions of that release;
- Copies of any orders about bail, conditional sentence, and probation; and
- Information about an accused who has been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder while that person is under the jurisdiction of a court or a Review Board.
Courts now must ask the Crown if reasonable steps were taken to let the victim know of a plea agreement for murder or for serious personal injury offences, or on request by the victim for offences that carry a potential sentence of imprisonment of five years or more.
Information for Registered Victims
- The status of the offender who harmed them, and the offender’s progress on his or her correctional plan;
- The offender’s release date, destination and conditions unless that information would negatively impact public safety;
- Copies of Parole Board of Canada decisions; and
- Victim-offender mediation services.
Right to protection
Victims have the right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages of the criminal justice process, and to have reasonable and necessary protection from intimidation and retaliation. Victims also have the right to ask for a testimonial aid at court appearances.
Security and Privacy
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights builds on existing laws by giving victims the right to:
- have their security and privacy considered by criminal justice personnel;
- be protected from intimidation and retaliation; and
- ask the court that their identity not be released to the public.
Victims have the right to request testimonial aids when testifying in court, and it is easier for courts to order testimonial aids. Courts now consider a number of factors, including the security and protection of witnesses, when deciding whether to allow victims to give their testimony by closed-circuit television, behind a screen, or with a support person close by.
If requested for victims under 18 years of age, publication bans are mandatory.
In sexual assault cases, amendments to the Criminal Code have changed how third-party records are handled to better protect the safety and privacy of victims.
The Crown can now make a spouse testify in all cases to help ensure that prosecutors have access to all relevant evidence.
Corrections and Conditional Release
For victims who have submitted a victim statement to the Parole Board of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada may impose reasonable and necessary conditions (for example non-contact orders or geographic limits) on offenders who are under a long-term supervision order, as was already the case with other offenders. The Board is also required to take reasonable steps to let victims know if the offender’s conditions are removed or changed.
The Correctional Service of Canada must provide victims with access to a current photograph of the offender before his or her release, unless there is a risk to public safety.
Right to participation
Victims have the right to present victim impact statements and have them considered in court. Victims also have the right to express their views about decisions that affect their rights.
Changes to Laws
Victims have been provided with more meaningful participation in the criminal justice system through changes that:
- require judges to include in records of bail proceedings that they have considered the victim’s safety and security;
- add the acknowledgement of harm done to victims and the community as a sentencing objective under the Criminal Code;
- allow victims to use a testimonial aid when they present their victim impact statement in court;
- allow victims to bring a photo of the victim to court while giving their victim impact statement;
- provide a standard form for victim and community impact statements to ensure consistency in how victims describe to the court the impact the crime had on them, including any physical or emotional harm, property damage, or financial loss; and
- allow victims to include a picture or a drawing in their victim impact statement if this helps them to better express the impact the crime had on them.
The standard form for victim impact statements can also be used by a Review Board when making a decision about an accused person found to be not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
Corrections and Conditional Release
Victims have been provided with more meaningful participation in the parole and conditional release system, including:
- the ability to listen to an audio recording of the hearing for victims who are unable to attend a parole hearing;
- the ability to designate a person to represent them to receive information on their behalf; and
- the ability to waive access to information about the offender who harmed them from Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada should they so choose.
Right to seek restitution
Victims have the right to have the court consider making a restitution order, and having an unpaid restitution order enforced through a civil court.
Changes to the Criminal Code
- Victims are allowed to describe at sentencing the losses they have suffered because of the crime committed against them.
- A standard form is available for victims to help them claim their losses. The amounts claimed must be easy to calculate and based on records of actual financial loss. The amount can only include losses up to the date that the offender is sentenced (future losses cannot be included).
- Courts need to consider ordering restitution for all offences.
- An offender’s ability to pay is not a factor when courts order restitution.
- Courts can include information about payment schedules in their judgment.
A judge can order restitution for financial losses related to:
- Damaged or lost property due to the crime;
- Physical injury or psychological harm due to the crime;
- Physical injury due to the arrest or attempted arrest of the offender;
- Costs for temporary housing, food, childcare and transportation due to moving out of the offender’s household (this only applies if a victim has moved because they had been physically harmed or threatened with physical harm due to the offence, arrest, or attempted arrest of the offender); and,
- Costs that victims of identity theft had to pay to re-establish their identity, and to correct their credit history and their credit rating.