Mr. Chair, thank you to the committee for allowing me to come to testify on Bill C-32.
I am here as an individual, but I come with a wide range of experience. I was formerly the federal ombudsman for victims of crime. I currently work in an organization called Ottawa Victim Services, which is a front line, community-based agency that works with victims of crime. I also teach at Algonquin College in the victimology program. I am here as an individual, and so I don't represent any of those organizations but am happy to draw on the experiences of that work.
There are many positive aspects to Bill C-32. Frankly, I think much of the positive stuff isn't so much found in the victims bill of rights as in the changes to the Criminal Code and the CCRA. I'm not trying to say there is something wrong with the victims bill of rights, but what concerns me is more what people are saying about the bill than what the bill actually says.
We were told that the bill would put victims at the heart of the justice system. It doesn't do that. We were told that the victims would have enforceable rights. They don't have those. This is an important bill. I think it's important for Parliament to take the opportunity, as provincial legislatures have, to pass their comments on and give direction to the courts and to those in the system on how they expect victims of crime to be treated, but to be honest, I don't think the bill is going to change very much in the everyday aspect of our court system, our police stations, and our victims service offices.
Before I get to that, let me talk about some of the positive things that are in here. To be honest, I'm pleased to see some of the initiatives that we started during my short time at the ombudsman's office, such as the amendments to the CCRA to let victims see a photo of the offender, if he or she is about to be released. That can be really important for people. If someone has been in prison for a long time, their appearance may have changed and you don't know whether they are coming back to your community, so it would be nice to know what the person looks like. To have access to that photo is very positive. That's one of the recommendations we made when I was at the ombudsman's office.
The ability to have that, and the suggestion Andy made about having the photo as part of the victim impact statement, but maybe doing more than that.... I think those are important, really positive changes for victims who are there to represent their loved ones. I don't think they would change anything in the sentencing process.
I think it's important to have information about immigration for victims, and there are some changes to the CCRA here. That was one of the recommendations we made as well.
I wouldn't limit it so much. The bill limits information, if the offender has been removed from the country while under sentence. I would not put that limitation on, because if the Correctional Service of Canada transfers the offender to the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency, and while they have them—it's not a quick process—the sentence ends, then the victim wouldn't necessarily be notified if the offender were removed from the country. I think some expansion there would be appropriate.
The changes to restitution are positive, although I'm hesitant to suggest that we're going to see any real, significant change in it. Restitution is really complicated and very difficult. It's relatively easy if you have a broken television or you have a computer that was stolen, but when it gets into having counselling and losing time at work—some of the things the minister talked about—the expenses are sometimes very hard to capture, if there is going to be a plea bargain, because these things happen really quickly. The court requires your expenses to be readily ascertainable.
There is a provision, and I think it's positive, that the crown can ask for an adjournment to help collect those costs, but the victim has no ability to ask for such an adjournment. I think that would be a positive amendment as well.
Having said that, restitution is very challenging. Even though there is the civil process to have the order enforced, it becomes very challenging for victims to have to go to civil court to have the order enforced.
Saskatchewan has, as far as I know, a very well run restitution program that supports victims through this process. It might be something you would want to look at.
The complaints process is a very good idea, usually not through the ombudsman's office. It allows tracking of problems. if there are recurring issues, if there are systemic issues, you can address those. In smaller jurisdictions, it can be used as an educational tool.
I think the notion that a complaints process makes a right enforceable is a bit of a stretch. The right to complain doesn't give you a right to anything, really. This is not to say that it is not a positive addition, but it really doesn't give you, I think, what the government says that would equal enforceable rights.
In a lot of the bill, with the limitations in the bill again, there are important jurisdictional issues and important charter issues to consider, so I'm not suggesting to you that the limits that are in the bill are wrong. I think if you wanted to remove those and give victims standing and let them be a party, those are bigger discussions than you'd want to have in this bill, but as long as those restrictions are in there, I don't think anyone can suggest this puts victims at the centre, at the heart of the justice system.
Let me give you one example. We've heard already about the right to be notified of the plea, and so the judge, he or she, will have to ask the crown whether they notified the victim about this plea arrangement, but the bill actually says that the judge has to ask that question after he or she has accepted the plea. Crown and defence make their submissions. The judge accepts it. At that point the judge is required to ask the crown whether they talked to the victim about this. As Andy mentioned, if the crown says no, he or she should go and do that, but if they don't, nothing really happens. Keep in mind also, before the judge is to give the sentence, he or she is required to ask the crown if the victim wants to give a victim impact statement.
There's a series of these things. The last research I saw suggested that about one-third of judges actually ask crowns if they canvass victims for impact statements. It's in the Criminal Code, and it says they shall do it, but we know they often don't. There is no remedy or fallback from that, so I think it's important as we talk about the bill of rights to put it into context.
If you really want to understand what change this bill will make, you really should be hearing from the provinces; 90% of this falls under their jurisdiction. If they were to come to you and you were to ask them—because they all have their own provincial legislation—what the difference would be in their province, my guess is they would probably say, “not much”. If you were to ask police officers, if you were to ask the crown attorneys association, how they are going to do their job differently, I'm pretty sure they would say that not really much is going to change.
On the other hand, if I'm wrong, and I've been wrong before, if they were to say, “No, absolutely a lot is going to change: as crowns we're going to have to do all these things; as police we're going to have to do these things”, the question then becomes who's going to pay for all that. We hear constantly that our crowns are overburdened, and our police services budgets are really high. I can tell you in the Province of Ontario they're undergoing a modernization process for their victims services. This bill has not come up. In fact, they are cutting some victims services, and no new money is going to be put into victims services is the message that's being given in Ontario.
Also, with the concerns about victim-client surcharge, if we get a court of appeal that comes forward and says those lower court of appeal decisions are correct, that means they'll stop imposing the victim-client surcharge. In Ottawa, we've had lower court decisions that have said it's unconstitutional, and some judges, even when offenders can pay, have chosen not to impose the surcharge. Programs like Ottawa Victims Services that exist across the province get all of their funding from victim surcharges; it doesn't come from general revenue. If there is no surcharge money, that will have an impact on how those services operate.
Quickly, I would suggest a couple of things the committee might want to consider. The minister has talked about the ombudsman's office having some kind of oversight role. I've read the bill, but I don't see the office of the ombudsman actually mentioned in the bill at all, and I think certainly for provincial jurisdiction, that wouldn't be appropriate. I know when I was there we were told in no uncertain terms we were not to look over the shoulders of the provinces.
I think if there are going to be federal agencies that have their own complaints process, I would hope that the last point of appeal for a victim would be to the ombudsman's office. If it was the RCMP or corrections, and they didn't get a resolution, they could go to the ombudsman's office. I would also hope that all the departments would report back to the ombudsman's office so that it could track the kinds of complaints they're seeing and make recommendations to the government.
I would echo something Andy said as well about those victims. In our case, in a lot of the cases in the front-line victim services, many clients who we see don't report to the police. Some 90% of women who are sexually assaulted don't report to the police. Most domestic violence victims don't report. Hate crime victims and male victims don't report to the police. If this bill were to have the kind of change in the system the government suggests it would, I think in victim services we'd be putting a lot of resources into those victims in the system, which means that those victims who don't report would be left out in the cold. I wouldn't want to see that happen.
On immigration I talked a bit about that.
I was struck by the minister's comments that the bill wouldn't apply to the military; it wouldn't apply to the military justice system. I find that quite concerning, especially given what we've heard in recent years about the treatment of sexual assault victims in the military. I would hope that if it can't be remedied in this bill, the rights and the provisions and the approach that is provided to victims, that kind of recognition, would also be given to victims in the military justice system.