Cretins, crooks, and convicts beware… the days of focusing on your hurts, habits and hang-ups will soon be superseded by a new Bill of Rights for victims, courtesy of Bill C-32, the Conservative government’s fulfillment of its election promise to recognize the forgotten victims of your crimes.
With the passing of this new law, victims will be empowered to ask questions and get answers about their offender’s history, bail conditions, plea bargains, parole terms, and other assorted procedures that to date have forced victims to strain to look inside the halls of justice, from a vantage point obscured by savvy defence lawyers and complacent prosecutors.
Case in point: an Ontario mother’s son was stabbed eighteen times with a penknife, suffering a horrible demise. His mother counted on Canada’s justice system to punish the offender in a manner commensurate with the brutality of the crime. When she learned, after the fact, about the plea deal that saw a reduced charge with a lenient prison term she and her family felt as if their son’s death was nothing more than an inconvenience, a second victimization.
The high-profile sentencing of pedophile Graham James to a mere two-year jail term rightly astonished his victims, adult survivors of James’ sick sexual proclivities. Thankfully, the Manitoba Court of Appeal righted the wrong by increasing his sentence to five years, still not enough for a man who repeatedly victimized young hockey players.
The proposed legislation also provides that where a victim loses his or her life, surviving family members and conjugal partners will have the ability to exercise the rights that would have been available to the victim, had he or she survived. Of course, family members charged and convicted of interfamilial homicide would not enjoy these rights.
With the new law, victim impact statements must be considered by sentencing judges and the ramifications of the victim’s physical, emotional, psychological, and financial scars will play a more central role. As well, under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights specialized bodies will be established to review complaints from victims or their families whose rights under the legislation have been breached. Financial restitution will also be available.
Quite properly, the rights granted will not be permitted to impede or interfere with police investigations or prosecutorial discretion, nor can they be used to create excessive delay. Indeed, the new Bill of Rights will not give victims of crime any status as parties or interveners in criminal law proceedings. These rights are designed to address victim’s concerns without overburdening the justice system.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the proposed law. Not surprisingly, several criminal defence lawyers oppose the bill, including Toronto’s always colourful Clayton Ruby who said the law was a “mess of porridge”, nothing more than a political ploy to sucker victims of crime.
Other naysayers include the John Howard Society, whose mandate is to advocate for offenders, particularly upon their release from prison. Meanwhile the Assembly of First Nations have complained they were not consulted, a startling proposition if it is accurate, considering the rampant victimization of aboriginal girls and women post- Willie Pickton.
While the bill may not go far enough for some, it is Canada’s first recognition that victims of crime deserve courtesy, respect, and compassion.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang