Federal Victim Surcharge
About the federal victim surcharge
The federal victim surcharge is a monetary penalty that is automatically imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing. Money collected from offenders is intended to help fund programs and services for victims of crime.
Why the current changes are being proposed
Although the existing Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, which came into force in 2013, sought to increase offenders' accountability to victims of crime, the mandatory application of the federal victim surcharge to all offenders, even those who genuinely lacked the ability to pay, has resulted in a number of Charter challenges.
For instance, in R. v. Shaun Michael, the judge found that the victim surcharge amounted to cruel and unusual punishment for a homeless man struggling with addiction and living on a street allowance of $250 a month. This individual faced a total of $900 in victim surcharges resulting from nine offences the judge described as "nuisance crimes" committed while he was intoxicated one evening.
What the proposed legislation would do
Under the proposed legislation, the amounts of the federal victim surcharge would not change. Moreover, the proposed legislation clarifies that the surcharge is to be automatically applied at sentencing and that it is to be applied to each offence cumulatively.
However, in order to address concerns related to the adverse impacts on marginalized offenders, the proposed legislation provides limited judicial discretion in relation to both the mandatory and the cumulative imposition of the surcharge in certain circumstances:
- The proposed amendments to the legislation would authorize a sentencing court to exempt payment of the surcharge if an offender applies for a waiver and demonstrates that payment would cause them undue hardship. To avoid reverting to the pre-2013 situation, the proposed legislation would clarify that undue hardship relates to the financial inability to pay for reasons such as unemployment, homelessness, and significant financial obligations to dependants. Incarceration for the offence committed by the offender does not, on its own, constitute undue hardship.
- If an offender had multiple offences related to failures to appear before a court or breaches of certain conditions of a police release or of a court order (such as bail conditions), the court could reduce the number of surcharges for these types of administration-of-justice offences to ensure that the total sum of victim surcharges is not disproportionate under the circumstances. This reduction would not apply to breaches that cause harm to a victim.
The court would be required to provide reasons for any exemption or exception from the mandatory application of the victim surcharge to each offence. The proposed amendments aim to address the underlying concerns raised by Charter challenges without reverting to the earlier situation where the victim surcharge was rarely imposed.
Funding for services to victims of crime
The federal victim surcharge will continue to provide funding to victim services while holding offenders accountable to victims of crime. Provinces and territories administer and manage the collection and use of the revenue.
At the same time, the Government of Canada is helping to provide stable funding and support for services to victims and survivors of crime, including via the federal Victims Fund. The Victims Fund provides grants and contributions to the provinces and territories to support projects and activities that increase awareness and knowledge of victim issues, legislation, and available services. It is also used to develop and deliver victim programs, services, and assistance to meet gaps in services for victims of crime. More information about the Victims Fund and how to apply for project funding is available from the Justice Canada website.
Department of Justice Canada
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