Cut down on court delays by supporting victims of crime: ombudsman

Cut down on court delays by supporting victims of crime: ombudsman

Canada’s top court recently imposed trial time limits

Making sure those who experience the biggest impacts of crime have the support they need would do a lot to speed up the wheels of justice, says the federal ombudsman for victims of crime.

“We have to have a criminal justice system that is effective and efficient,” Sue O’Sullivan said in an interview ahead of today’s release of a set of reports on how the Liberal government could keep victims in mind as they prepare to introduce reforms.

“Let’s look for a system that is going to meet the needs of victims instead of looking for alternatives when the system isn’t working.”

READ: Probe finds clogged courts can run smarter, faster

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould the mandate to review changes to the criminal justice system and sentencing reforms the previous Conservative government brought in as part of its tough-on-crime agenda, including mandatory minimum penalties.

The need to improve the criminal justice system has been given an increased sense of urgency since last summer, when the Supreme Court released its groundbreaking ruling, R v. Jordan, that came down hard on serious delays that can mean years pass by between the laying of charges and the conclusion of a trial.

The top court imposed strict new ceilings on the amount of time a case could take to make its way through the system — 18 months in provincial courts and 30 months in superior courts. The only remedy for going over the limit is a stay of proceedings, no matter how serious the charge.

The impact that court delays — and having cases tossed as a result — can have on victims of crime was one of the issues that came up over the summer as O’Sullivan held cross-country consultations to gather perspectives from victims and advocacy groups on criminal justice reforms.

“Court delays are typically cast in terms of the rights of the accused but not the rights of victims,” said one of the five reports to be released today.

“Yet victims also have an important interest in a criminal justice system that is not delayed,” the report said. “Having charges stayed as a result of delays hurts victims. Remedies that emphasize both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim must be found.”

In an interview, O’Sullivan argued that giving victims of crime the resources and information they need can cut down on judicial delays.

She pointed to a pilot program in England and Wales that boosted support for victims and witnesses, including with basic needs such as child care, addressed concerns such as fear of intimidation and provided them with greater communication throughout the process.

“There was an increase in the number of victims and witnesses that could testify,” she said. “There was an increase in early guilty pleas.”

O’Sullivan said those who took part in her engagement process understood systemic root causes of crime often blur the line between victim and perpetrator, but they would like to see a greater balance between their rights and the rights of the accused.

“They want to make sure that the legs of the stool are equal,” she said.

One of the reports focused on bail reform, including the Liberal campaign promise to create a reverse onus on bail for those who have previously been convicted of intimate partner violence. A commitment to toughen bail conditions in domestic assault cases was also in the mandate letter.

The report urges the federal government to act on this, but also recommends ensuring victims are considered in all aspects of bail reform, such as by requiring judges to ask whether a victim has been consulted about their safety and security needs as they decide whether to grant bail.

The mandate letter for Wilson-Raybould said sentencing reform should result in greater use of restorative justice.

Many of those who participated in the consultations expressed apprehension over this, including the concern it could be a way to reduce penalties, or avoid them altogether.

There were also concerns about restorative justice being used for gender-based violence, given the power imbalance these cases can involve.

O’Sullivan said the key is that victims should have a say.

“I think what we have to do is ask victims,” said O’Sullivan.

A common theme throughout the reports is that victims need stronger and better enforced rights, but also more information about what those rights are in the first place.

O’Sullivan said could be helped by involving everyone in the justice system, from police officers to the federal government, in doing more to create awareness of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

The federal justice minister said in a statement Monday that she has included victims groups in her consultations on criminal justice system reform, including a roundtable devoted to these issues.

“The minister remains committed to fulfilling all aspects of her mandate letter, including toughening bail conditions in cases domestic assault,” her office said in a statement.

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Supporters — and shoppers — lined up waiting at the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South, waiting for the doors to open on the store's first day of operations since the pandemic forced its closure. (Photo courtesy Kate Fox)
CHCA Thrift Store re-opens in Cranbrook

After a closure of 15 months, due to the pandemic, the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South has once again opened its doors for business.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read