Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to once again reinforce some of the aspects of these amendments that we believe will enhance the justice system in the country.
Bill C-79 amendments will enhance and expand the opportunities for victims of crime to make a victim impact statement and will address the manner in which the statement can be made.
When determining the appropriate sentence to impose on an offender, the judge takes into account a range of considerations related to both the particular offender and to the offence, and is guided by the purposes and principles of sentencing set out in the code and the penalties set out in the code, including any applicable mandatory minimum.
The victim impact statement must be considered by the sentencing judge along with all other relevant information. The statement is a description of the harm done or the loss suffered by the victim. In other words, the impact from their personal point of view.
Bill C-79 makes several important changes to the impact statement provisions. For example, the amendments will make it clear that it is the victim's choice whether to read his or her victim impact statement. Note that the current code provisions require the judge to consider the written victim impact statement which has been prepared and filed.
This will continue to be the case. In other words, when a victim does not choose to present the statement orally, the judge will still be required to consider the written statement. It is always the victim's choice whether to prepare a victim impact statement and some may not wish to do so.
There may be situations where the victim seeks to present his or her statement in another manner, for example by video or audio tape or through a third person. In these situations the judge will determine if that type of presentation is appropriate.
The amendments will also require that a judge make inquiries after a determination of guilt and before sentencing as to whether a victim has been informed of the opportunity to prepare a victim impact statement. In most cases the judge will direct the inquiry to the crown attorney, who should be aware of the prevailing policy in the jurisdiction for advising victims about victim impact statements. For example, in some jurisdictions the police may provide a card to all victims they come into contact with which refers victims to victim witness services and/or which refers to the victim impact statement program, or the crown may have a notation in the file that the victim has indeed been advised.
The amendment is intended to provide one last check on the information a victim should have received. The ability to prepare and submit a victim impact statement is of little benefit to a victim if the victim is not aware of these provisions. We note that it is always the victim's choice whether to prepare an impact statement. Some victims will be advised of the opportunity and may choose not to prepare such a statement. However, the choice cannot be made without adequate information. In some cases an adjournment may be necessary to permit the victim to be notified and a statement prepared. The amendments will specifically authorize such adjournments.
Victim impact statements will also be available to victims where the offender is found not criminally responsible for the offence committed. Currently, when an accused person is found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, there is no opportunity for the victim to describe the impact of the offence. This is because a mentally disordered accused is not sentenced because they are not criminally responsible.
The current victim impact provisions only apply at sentencing proceedings. The reality, though, is that victims of mentally disordered offenders are victims of crime and should have a similar opportunity to describe the impact. The amendments will therefore provide that, following a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder, a victim may prepare and file a statement. The statement will be considered by the court or by the Criminal Code Review Board when making the initial disposition regarding the mentally disordered accused.
The Criminal Code includes a complete part dealing with mentally disordered offenders and sets out criteria for making dispositions. The victim impact statement shall be considered in the context of those criteria and, in the case where a conditional discharge is appropriate, the statement shall be considered in determining the appropriate conditions.
Another significant development that has emerged from the growing acceptance of the principle that offenders should acknowledge the harm done to victims and the community is the emergence of community impact statements. Community impact statements, although not legislated, are gaining acceptance as a means by which the community has a voice in the criminal justice system. This concept grew out of the increasing acceptance of victim impact statements as a valid and worthwhile role for victims to play at sentencing proceedings.
The amendments to enhance victim involvement at sentencing through the victim impact statement recognize that crime has an impact on real people. Community involvement in crime prevention, victim advocacy and, as mentioned, community impact statements demonstrate that the people of Canada are committed to improving the justice system. Bill C-79 demonstrates that the government shares that commitment.