Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon in response to my March 26 intervention in question period.
The rights of victims to be fully heard and involved throughout the course of their proceedings in the criminal justice system were a priority for the previous Conservative government. The Conservatives have always placed a high importance on victims when it comes to defending their rights. That is why the previous Conservative government worked to implement the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, or CVBR, in 2015. The bill ensures that victims are informed about the status of the release process for offenders and are able to express their views on decisions related to parole. It also promises protections for victims from intimidation or retaliation for such participation.
However, like all legislation, the desired effect may not have aligned with its real-world application. This is the nature of comprehensive and practical legislation. It requires regular review and amendment to ensure that it achieves its desired effect.
In the case of the CVBR, victims themselves have been clear that its shortcomings warrant an overdue parliamentary review. Victims, the federal ombudsman and other stakeholders have already begun our work by highlighting consistent inefficiencies in the CVBR. These include the sporadic and inconsistent implementation of the act, limited training opportunities for criminal justice officials and no public education effort to inform citizens of their rights.
Victims, their families and their advocates are ready and willing to assist Parliament with the required five-year review of the bill, but regrettably it has not yet taken place. Victims cannot wait any longer. Thirty years ago, Lisa Freeman was victimized through the first-degree murder of her father, Roland Slingerland. For years she has been advocating for her voice to be heard in parole decisions concerning her father’s killer. Despite the implementation of the CVBR in 2015, Lisa still feels as if the rights of the man who has brought such pain upon her family are placed above her own. We can all agree that 30 years is far too long for victims to wait to feel as if the criminal justice system has truly taken their interests to heart.
To Lisa, key shortcomings of the CVBR include its proper enforcement and the fact that legislation protecting offenders’ rights often supersedes aspects of the bill. She feels that the onus is on her and other victims to constantly advocate for themselves throughout the justice process. Her concerns have been amplified by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime's January 2021 report, which states:
The burden of asking for information and to be kept informed of developments in their case is placed upon traumatized victims and survivors at every stage along their criminal justice journey. Many victims simply do not know what to ask for or they assume officials will provide them with the entitlements in the law.
In effect, by not identifying which officials are obligated to provide information, the obligation [to inform victims] falls to no one.
In the high-profile case of Tori Stafford, who was abducted, raped and murdered by Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic, Tori's father Rodney has also been revictimized by faults in the criminal justice system that the CVBR has so far failed to address. In his words, “There’s a plan for the offender, but there’s no plan for the victim.... Victims don't have a lot of rights and things need to change.” This is unacceptable.
Victims have been asked to sacrifice enough, and through no fault of their own. They should not have to find out about trials after they have occurred or discover their right to submit a victim impact statement after the deadline has passed. They should not be left unaware of the right to information about their federally incarcerated offender or be traumatized by unexpected contact when their offender is released into the community without their knowledge.
More than two months have passed since I asked the minister when the required parliamentary review would take place. On behalf of victims, survivors and their families, I ask this again: On what date will the Minister of Justice initiate the required review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights?