It's an honour to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
When we look at the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, clearly it represents a step forward, but several issues remain that need to be addressed. Canada has a responsibility to ensure that the 1985 UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, which Canada was one of the countries that took the initiative to develop, is respected across the country. Unfortunately, currently, Canada does not meet these minimum standards and norms for victims of crime.
Key topics that are included in the UN declaration, such as state compensation, victim support and restorative justice, are not included in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
For example, according to articles 12 and 13 of the UN declaration, states should create compensation programs for victims of violence. Currently in Canada, not all provinces and territories have such programs. This inequality needs to be addressed in order to ensure that all Canadians have access to the minimum standards identified by the United Nations. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should be modified to include these basic rights for victims. Specifically, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should be amended to include access to victim support, restorative justice and state compensation programs.
Second, regarding restitution, in order to execute a restitution order, section 17 of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights refers victims to civil tribunals. However, civil judgment does not really help victims. We know this. This has been well known for 20 or 30 years in the research. Recognizing the inadequacy of such a provision, other countries have made the state, rather than victims, responsible for enforcing restitution orders, treating them like they treat fines. The state already has mechanisms in place to ensure that fines are paid, and these systems can be used to retrieve restitution owed by offenders. I address this in the research brief, “Restitution in the context of criminal justice”, which I attached with my documents yesterday. It's available in both English and French.
Third, regarding language, article 3 of the UN declaration states that all victims should have access to rights and services, regardless of their language, race, gender, age and so on. Canada is officially bilingual, not to mention the many other languages, indigenous languages, found in Canada. The criminal justice system is set up to accommodate the linguistic needs of the accused, of offenders; however, it does not address the linguistic needs of victims.
An example that is not uncommon, unfortunately, in Montreal courts is when one party—the offender, for example—speaks one language, such as English, and the victim speaks another, such as French. The accused has access to translation services, and rightly so, but the victim does not, and a victim who wishes to attend the trial and follow the case cannot even ask a bilingual friend to accompany them and to help translate. As they are members of the public, they sit in the public tribunal and no one is allowed to speak during the trial.
This problem is not limited to the courtroom either. Services such as compensation programs often have unilingual websites, forms, and so on. Specifically, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should be amended to include equal access to rights and services regardless of language, race, gender, age and so on.
Fourth, the rights in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights are non-enforceable rights. I was quite happy to see the senator raise this issue, as well. This means that when victims' rights are not respected, they have no recourse. What good are rights if they are not enforceable? Victims are powerless against an omnipotent state that has the power to force them to testify as well as the power to shut them out. We need to recognize that crime is a violation of victims' human rights, as well as an offence against society.
Treating victims with dignity and respect means recognizing them as persons before the law, with rights and with recourse. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights must be amended to include an enforcement mechanism; otherwise, to quote Ontario judge Gerald Day, one can only conclude “that the Legislature did not intend for the Victims Bill of Rights to provide rights to the victims”. I quote this from the decision in Vanscoy and Even in 1999, when two victims brought this case to the government when their rights, as stated in the Ontario Victims Bill of Rights, were not respected.
I have attached a copy of chapter 7 of my book, Victimology: A Canadian Perspective, in which I discuss victims' rights in Canada and abroad.
Specifically, articles 27, 28 and 29 of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights should be deleted. They should be replaced with an enforcement mechanism.
Modify the language of the Victims Bill of Rights, including article 20, to acknowledge the victims' human rights and recognize that crime constitutes a violation of their human rights.