Thank you for this opportunity to address the standing committee on issues that are of particular importance to victims of homicide.
MOVA is a support organization consisting of families of homicide victims, whose sole goal is to support other families of homicide victims.
I would like to speak to you today about four pressing issues that are of particular importance to people like me. You see, I, too, am a mother of a murdered child. My son, T.J., had his life taken on January 3, 2003. The issues I bring forward to you today are not only issues that I know about from my own experience, but are also ones that I've gathered from other families.
The first issue that I'd like to speak to is the poor representation of victims, not only throughout the justice system as it has always been, but even through the justice review process.
The view of those who are requesting change for the accused has been disproportionately requested, compared to the view of victims, yet for every offender, there are between one and 10 immediately affected victims whose needs are addressed in only the most summary fashion. Victims are revictimized over and over again by a process that has no place for them, and yet these victims and co-victims must try to regain their lives with next to no supports. This, in turn, results in drains on the health care and policing systems, to name only a couple.
We constantly hear about the rights of the accused and the rights of the offender, and the judicial system makes every effort to adhere to those rights. We seldom discuss the rights of the victim and co-victims. The supports to them are almost non-existent. As we are looking at reforms of our criminal justice system, we need to put greater emphasis on the rights and needs of victims and co-victims—people and citizens of Canada who have had their lives stolen by the actions of another individual or individuals through no fault and no intention of their own.
In one case in Manitoba where a young man was murdered on a Greyhound bus, 15 of the people who were riding on the bus and who assisted on the bus that day were interviewed. Of the 15, all were still suffering after-effects 10 years later. One person committed suicide and a new mother had her child taken by CFS because of her inability to properly care for her child. Others were suffering from PTSD, and still others were no longer able to hold onto a job and were needing assistance from welfare.
Where are the supports for those people and, in turn, for their families—a few dollars from the province for counselling? Where do we even talk about them and their needs? Who even cares what happens to them?
Are they a drain on public systems? Absolutely. Even economically it makes sense to support those people following the incident, to recognize them and to provide assistance for their return to a somewhat normal life.
The second issue I'd like to speak about is the reclassification of offences. Currently, charges of murder in the first and second degree are often plea bargained down to manslaughter. I realize that this is done for a variety of reasons. There needs to be a separation between cases where a person is charged with an accidental death and a person is plea bargained to manslaughter. They are not the same. However, we have had several cases in Manitoba where, because time spent in custody pre-sentence is realized at time and a half, the offender serves a minimal amount of time following sentencing, sometimes finding that their sentence has been completely served by the time of sentencing.
In cases where there has been a deliberate act of taking of a life, pre-sentence time should not be allowed to be represented as time and a half. It should be represented in the same way as time served for murder or second-degree murder.
The issue could be solved if manslaughter could be divided into two categories: one where the plea bargain could fit and one where accidental death would fit. A common factor for all victims is that the person who deliberately took the life of their loved one be held accountable. We don't want the wrong person prosecuted, but we want the right person to be held accountable. When an initial charge of first- or second-degree murder is made, the charge is based on a deliberate act. That needs to be recognized in sentencing.
The third issue that I'd like to speak with you about is the issue of NCR, not criminally responsible. Families of homicide victims understand the implications of the NCR findings more than anyone, other than the offender.
The issue of mental illness is a huge and timely discussion that is happening throughout many departments and institutions in Canada. Families of victims whose lives have been taken by someone who subsequently has been found NCR are in disbelief that when someone is found NCR in a murder case, there is no requirement to follow them to make sure they are complying with the directions of doctors who will make sure that they take the medications to keep them on track. In these cases, it is as if the health care system and the criminal justice system are failing not only the victim, but the offender themselves. If that person offends again because they have stopped taking their medications for whatever reason, they will end up in the criminal justice system again and they leave more victims in their wake. This could all be avoided if there was a requirement that those who have committed a murder and who are found NCR would still be followed to make sure they remain on their medications.
The last issue that I would like to speak with you about is the lengthy trial delays. I realize and understand there's been a lot of work done across Canada on this. Justice delayed is justice denied. That is true for the accused but it is also true for victims. In Manitoba, we have a case that took eight years from the date of the offence to the date of appeal dismissal. There were two accused and they were found guilty of first-degree murder. They had both achieved bail pretrial. They have now been incarcerated for four years and one is already applying for escorted absences. Certainly this family was victimized by the killers of their son, but they were revictimized by the judicial system over the period of eight years that it took for the court processes to be resolved, and the revictimization continues through a process that recognizes the rights of the offender but only limited rights for the victim's family.
Victims throughout Manitoba, and I'm sure throughout Canada, are thankful for the reforms that are speeding up the trial process. The stories of victims of homicide are months' worth of telling, and the issues of revictimization are many more than I'm given time here to present to you. However, I appreciate the willingness of this committee to hear the issues that I am bringing forward to you today for your consideration.