Victims’ rights bill lacks resources, critics say

The Victims Bill of Rights introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper this month makes a lot of promises but offers no new money to better fund victims services or restorative justice programs that operate largely on a volunteer basis, critics say.

But Linda Proctor, the grandmother of slain teenager Kimberly Proctor, said the bill is a positive step in giving victims more rights than offenders.

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After Harper finally gave details on a bill that was long-promised by the Conservative government as a measure that would give more power to victims of crime, Mary Campbell, former director general of the corrections and criminal justice directorate, read through the bill line by line. She said she can find a handful of provisions that are completely new.

“My reaction is the emperor has no clothes … there’s nothing there,” said Campbell, who retired last year after almost 30 years as a public servant.

“About 80 per cent is a restatement of existing law and practices,” she said. “Where are the services? Where are the real services and programs that would help victims? They’re simply not in here.”

Paul Pearson, co-chairman of the Canadian Bar Association’s criminal justice section in Victoria, said the criminal justice system is woefully overburdened and the victims services program doesn’t have adequate resources to shepherd victims through the process, which “leaves them by the wayside.”

The federal government should hire more “boots on the ground” in the form of victims services workers, Pearson said.

“We have amazing people working in [victim services], but if you ask anyone in this field, they will talk to you about how it’s embarrassing that they have to rely on bake sales, volunteers and charitable fundraising when the government should just be paying for this to support victims,” Pearson said.

In fact, Greater Victoria Victim Services employees have had to vacate their office in the Victoria police station because of mould. For the last month, staff have been working from home.

Pearson said the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda has meant more money being spent “on thoughtlessly locking people up in jails and not spending enough money helping people who have been victimized by crime.”

Some measures give the victim the right to see information about their case as it proceeds through the criminal justice system, the right to complain through a formal process if they believe their case was not handled properly and allow parole boards to require offenders not to live near a victim.

Proctor, whose granddaughter, Kimberly, was brutally killed by her classmates, Cameron Moffat and Kruse Wellwood, in March 2010, said she’s happy about the provision that gives victims the opportunity to see an up-to-date photo of the offender when he or she is released from prison and she thinks that photo should be released to the public.

“If by chance [Moffat and Wellwood] are let out, the public should be aware of what they look like,” she said.

Proctor said her family was extremely lucky in that the RCMP and Crown prosecutor kept them well-informed as to what was happening every step of the way, but she knows that’s not the case for many crime victims.

Proctor said the family would like more information if one of the offenders is transferred to another correctional facility.

“It would be, I don’t know, comforting is not the right word, but satisfying to have that information. Because we haven’t had any information about what goes on, except if they leave jail.”

Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner said he’s pleased to see the new bill because police departments put much of the focus on the offender, forgetting about the victim in the process. “We forget about the other half of the equation,” he said.

There’s also a section that says victims should be referred to restorative justice programs wherever possible — something restorative justice advocates Katy Hutchison and Shannon Moroney called for when they were asked to give submissions on the bill.

Hutchison’s husband was beaten to death in 2002 when he tried to break up a loud house party. Hutchison later met with the men responsible and accepted their apology. Moroney’s husband was convicted of the brutal kidnap and rape of two women in Ontario and Moroney helped him take responsibility.

Both women said what’s missing from the bill is that restorative justice programs be “offered across the board by trained and sustainably funded agencies.”

Moroney said it’s a false promise to offer restorative justice programs when the resources just aren’t there.

Restorative justice programs involve co-ordinating with the offender, the victim, the police and members of the community,

Gillian Lindquist, program co-ordinator for Restorative Justice Victoria, said that without new funding to support the largely volunteer-driven community programs, it’s difficult for them to be effective. There’s a lot of turnover among volunteer co-ordinators, she said.

“There’s not enough money for training for staff and volunteers to do this work,” she said, adding that the restorative justice process deals with very sensitive issues that could involve mental health, trauma and addiction.

Campbell said the overall effect of the bill could be promising victims sweeping changes that will ultimately disappoint.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think this improves anything in terms of [victims’] actual input or role to play,” she said. “It’s really going to be setting up a few people for disappointment if they expect to get more out of this.”

What's in the bill

Included in the Conservative government’s long-awaited victims’ rights bill:

• People could be compelled to testify in court against a spouse.

• Victims would be able to find out much more about the offender.

• Victims would have the right to have the courts consider making a restitution order in all cases and to have such orders registered as a civil court judgment against the offender if the money isn’t paid.

• Victims would have the right to read an impact statement in or outside the court, or behind a screen.

• The court must inform victims, if they ask, of any plea agreements reached between the accused and the Crown.

— The Canadian Press

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