Fed­eral watch­dog says 4-year-old vic­tims rights regime fall­ing short

The Expositor (Brantford) - - ONTARIO NEWS - JOR­DAN PRESS THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — The new fed­eral watch­dog for vic­tims of crime says rules meant to give vic­tims and their fam­i­lies louder voices in the jus­tice sys­tem have fallen short.

The pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced what it called a vic­tims’ bill of rights al­most four years ago that al­lowed vic­tims of crime to get in­for­ma­tion about of­fend­ers in the cor­rec­tions sys­tem and have their views taken into ac­count when de­ci­sions are made about them.

The regime to en­force those rights doesn’t go far enough, says Heidi Illing­worth, who late last year be­came fed­eral om­buds­man for vic­tims of crime.

In an in­ter­view, Illing­worth says she wants to see the regime strength­ened to give vic­tims “legally en­force­able” rights be­cause “we still are not there yet.”

“To me, it doesn’t go quite far enough,” Illing­worth said. “If we’ve given rights in leg­is­la­tion, there has to be a rem­edy to that right oth­er­wise it’s not an ac­tual right. That’s what the prob­lem is right now, is that there is no way to en­force the rights that have been given to vic­tims.”

She used the ex­am­ple of how rel­a­tives of Tori Stafford weren’t able to pro­vide their thoughts on trans­fer de­ci­sions for the two peo­ple convicted in the eight-year-old’s 2009 mur­der, find­ing out only af­ter the killers had been moved.

Terri-Lynne McClin­tic had been moved to an Indige­nous heal­ing lodge, which cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials later re­versed, and Michael Raf­ferty from a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison to a medium-se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity.

“It’s a sec­ond vic­tim­iza­tion to many folks when they’re deal­ing with these big sys­tems,” Illing­worth said this week. “They’re not able to give in­put. A de­ci­sion is made and then they’re in­formed af­ter the fact.”

Illing­worth plans to launch a spe­cial re­view of the vic­tims’-rights frame­work to high­light the is­sue and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for the gov­ern­ment to con­sider.

In late Septem­ber, Illing­worth be­came the third per­son to hold the post of vic­tims watch­dog, af­ter the Lib­er­als took months to fill the po­si­tion va­cated by Sue O’Sul­li­van, who had held the post for seven years.

Prior to her ap­point­ment, Illing­worth spent two decades at the Cana­dian Re­source Cen­tre for Vic­tims of Crime, hav­ing be­come in­ter­ested in vic­tim ser­vices dur­ing her post-sec­ondary stud­ies when she did a place­ment with a vic­tims agency.

Her corner of­fice has the usual pic­tures of friends and fam­ily, but there is also Indige­nous art Illing­worth brought home af­ter a vic­tims con­fer­ence nine years ago in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

Indige­nous peo­ple are over-rep­re­sented in the jus­tice sys­tem as both vic­tims and of­fend­ers. Illing­worth said the art­work re­minds her of the need for more holis­tic ser­vices for Abo­rig­i­nal vic­tims, such as ac­cess to el­ders for tra­di­tional treat­ments, and pro­vide bet­ter sup­ports on- and off-re­serve.

Those and other vic­tims’ ser­vices need more money, she said.

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law re­quir­ing peo­ple convicted of crimes to pay fees for vic­tims ser­vices. The sur­charges have ex­isted since 1988, but the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment re­moved judges’ au­thor­ity to waive or lower the fees when they deemed them in­ap­pro­pri­ate in par­tic­u­lar cases.

The Lib­er­als in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion in 2016 to re­turn dis­cre­tion to judges, but later folded the mea­sure into an om­nibus jus­tice bill now be­fore the Se­nate.

Illing­worth is hope­ful the bill, C-75, will soon be­come law, restor­ing most of the money stream but al­low­ing judges to make ex­cep­tions.

“The judge needs to have some dis­cre­tion, but it’s re­ally, re­ally crit­i­cal that vic­tims’ ser­vices get funded prop­erly and not just af­ter-thought fund­ing. We have groups and com­mu­ni­ties who don’t have enough,” she said.

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