The Conservative government introduced the Victims Bill of Rights Thursday. They say it will give victims of crime an effective voice.
"The rights of criminals have received far more attention than those of their victims,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he announced the bill. Justice is not only for the accused, he said, but also for the victim.
“As we have stated countless times, we are committed to introducing a comprehensive package of legislative reforms never before seen in the country’s history,” said a letter from Justice Minister Peter MacKay to the Conservative caucus Sunday. “Victims of crime deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion, inclusion, and respect.”
The bill would give victims the right to:
- Have their security and privacy protected at all stages of a case.
- Convey their views about decisions made at various stages of the case and to present a victim impact statement.
- Gain specific information about the progress of a case, as well as general information about the criminal justice system and victims services programs.
- Have the court consider making a restitution order for all offences where there is financial loss
Not everyone believes the bill will be effective. Lori Triano-Antidormi said she thinks the bill will create false hope for victims.
In 1997, Triano-Antidormi’s two-year-old son Zachary was stabbed to death by a neighbour. He was outside his Hamilton home playing. The neighbour, a 60-year-old woman, was deemed not criminally responsible because she was paranoid schizophrenic.
Triano-Antidormi is not only a victim of crime but, as a psychologist, she also helps to treat others.
“My concern is promising [victims] more involvement in a very adversarial system,” she said. She says that, right now, victims have no role in a verdict unless they are a witness. “The crown has the final say.”
Government change would 'only fuel vengeance,' Triano-Antidormi said
But in an interview last fall, McKay said the government’s intention is to allow victims of crime to be involved in a case “from the time of the offence to the final disposition of the sentence.”
Triano-Antidormi said if the government were to make that change, it would only fuel vengeance in the victim “which from a physiological perspective doesn't help their healing or recovery.”
Catherine Latimer of the John Howard Society shares her concern. She wrote in the Toronto Star in October 2013 that the present government’s plans for victim-centered justice would threaten a slide back into a new dark age where victims’ vengeance poses as justice.
Instead of allowing victims more face time in court, something Triano-Antidormi said only turns attention away from recovery, she would have liked the bill to focus more on healing.
“Some people don’t want involvement in the judicial system. They don’t all want vengeance or to be tough on crime. A lot of people want help to try to rebuild their lives. That's what I think what victims need and this bill doesn't really talk about that," she said after it was released.
"I think [the bill] is drawing attention to the challenges of victims. I don’t know that this bill eases those challenges," said Triano-Antidormi. "I guess it creates discussion. That can be positive."