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Remarks to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: The Study of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights

Ms. Heidi Illingworth, Ombudsman
Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime 

June 3, 2021

Merci, Madame la Présidente.

I want to begin by expressing my sorrow for Indigenous families who are grieving the discovery of 215 children found in a mass grave at the Residential School in Kamloops. I stand in solidarity with all Indigenous Peoples in seeking justice.

Today, we also mark the release of the National Action Plan on MMIWG and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People in response to the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry released two years ago.

It is timely that I am here to discuss the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights which came into force in 2015, because more than five years later, a number of fundamental gaps and challenges remain for victims, especially racialized and 2SLBGTQQIA+ People. It is our view that the CVBR must be strengthened to better support all victims and survivors of crime.

Last November, my office launched a Progress Report on the CVBR. It was informed by what we hear in our frontline work, as well as what we learn from stakeholders and criminal justice personnel working across the Canadian justice system.

Based on our analysis of the data available to us, the justice system falls far short of delivering on the promised rights. It is time to conduct the Statutory Review of this legislation.

Every year, more than two million Canadians report criminal incidents to the police, almost one quarter of which are violent.

We don t know how many of these victims are being informed of their rights at all, let alone whether these rights are upheld as they make their way through the justice system.  I believe that the right to information is a foundational or gateway right. Without information being provided, victims are unable to access any of the other rights outlined in the CVBR or any other legislation.

Currently, victims only receive information upon request; meaning that they must know to ask for it. However, unless an official  actually tells them they have rights, they are unlikely to know these rights exists. It is my view that criminal justice officials must be mandated to inform victims of their rights. As written, the CVBR puts the onus on victims to know, understand and assert their rights.

The implementation of the CVBR has been sporadic and inconsistent, partly because:

  • There has been no major effort to systematically inform citizens of their rights, which would ensure people are less marginalized when they come into contact with the justice system
  • Criminal justice personnel have not been assigned clear roles and responsibilities with regard to delivering victims rights;
  • Training opportunities for officials have been limited, and many are not fully aware of the Act and its implications; and
  • Data on victims are not collected and published in a consistent manner across the country.

Parliament can strengthen the Act to hold officials accountable for respecting victims rights throughout the justice system and require institutions to collect and report data measuring their compliance with the Act. Parliament should also amend the legislation to guarantee access to support services to address victims needs for medical, psychological, legal and safety needs.

This means we must increase the capacity of victim serving organizations and community-based RJ programs through sustainable core funding to provide service to victims in communities in every part of this country. <

The last issue I would like to address is the most critical in my view. While the CVBR gives victims the right to information, to participation, to protection, and to seek restitution, the law does not give victims a legal remedy if any of these rights are violated.

This means victims do not have a way to enforce the rights given to them in law. Currently, victims only have the right to make a complaint to various agencies.

Victims must rely on the goodwill of criminal justice and corrections officials to give effect to, or to implement, their statutory rights under the Bill.

This means victims count on police, Crown prosecutors, courts, review Boards, corrections officials and parole boards to deliver, uphold and respect their rights.

Yet, my office continues to receive complaints from victims that are common across all jurisdictions in Canada. Victims report to us that they are not consistently provided information about their rights or how to exercise them, they feel overlooked in processes and they have no recourse when officials or criminal justice agencies don t respect their rights./p>

I will share our Progress Report on the CVBR with all of the Honourable Members, so that you can review the 15 recommendations we made to strengthen victims rights.

When victims rights in law are respected fully, we will help victims recover, strengthen the rule of law, enhance public safety and contribute to offender rehabilitation.

I welcome the opportunity to answer your questions.

Thank you. Merci. Migwetch.