On July 23, 2015, most of Bill C-32, the Victims Bill of Rights Act, which gives victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system, came into force. This legislation creates the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights to provide clear statutory rights at the federal level for victims of crime for the first time in Canada's history.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights establishes statutory rights to information, protection, and participation and to seek restitution, and it ensures that a complaint process is in place for breaches of these rights by a federal department or agency.
Coming into force
The amendments included in the Victims Bill of Rights Act, including the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, amendments to the Criminal Code, Canada Evidence Act, and Employment Insurance Act, and most amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), came into force on July 23, 2015.
The remaining amendments to the CCRA will come into force on a day or days to be fixed by Order in Council.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights defines a victim of crime as any individual who has suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage, or economic loss as a result of an offence committed under the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act; it also applies to some offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and parts of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The rights are available to a victim who is in Canada or who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. The rights apply to offences that occur in Canada, as well as to offences that are investigated or prosecuted or for which the offender is serving a sentence or conditional release in Canada.
The legislation also allows the following individuals to exercise a victim's rights when a victim is dead or incapable of acting on his or her behalf:
- the victim's spouse or an individual cohabiting with the victim in a conjugal relationship for at least one year prior to the victim's death;
- a relative or dependant of the victim; and
- anyone who has custody of the victim or of the victim's dependant.
A person who has been charged, convicted, or found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder for the offence that resulted in the victimization will not be defined as a victim. For example, if a parent has been charged with abuse of a child, that parent will not be allowed to exercise the child victim's rights or their own rights as a parent.
Remedies for breaches of rights
Under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, when a victim believes that his or her rights have been breached, the victim first files a complaint with the appropriate federal department or agency. The legislation includes a requirement for all federal departments and agencies that have responsibilities under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights to have internal complaint mechanisms accessible to victims to review complaints, make recommendations to correct any infringement, and notify victims about the results of the review.
Complaints regarding a provincial or territorial agency, including police, prosecutors, and victim services, will be addressed in accordance with the applicable provincial or territorial legislation. In order to improve the remedies available to victims, the federal government is providing funding through the Victims Fund to provinces and territories to enhance or establish complaint bodies for victims of crime. This funding encourages a level of consistency in the complaints mechanisms available to victims of crime across the country without drawing funds from successful existing programs for victims of crime.
A victim can exercise the rights in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights while an offence is being investigated or prosecuted and while the offender is subject to the corrections or conditional release process. For cases in which an accused has been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the victim can exercise the rights while the accused is under the jurisdiction of a court or Review Board.
If there is an inconsistency between the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and any other federal Act enacted on or after the day that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights comes into force, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights will prevail. In cases where the inconsistency is with the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Official Languages Act, the Access to Information Act, or the Privacy Act, the rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights will be balanced with these other quasi-constitutional statutes.
Limitations to exercising rights
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights includes a limitation clause to specify that the rights are to be applied in a reasonable manner so they do not interfere with police or prosecutorial discretion, cause excessive delay, compromise an investigation or prosecution, or cause a stay of proceedings. As well, the rights are not to endanger the life or safety of any individual, interfere with ministerial discretion, interfere with the discretion that may be exercised by any person or body authorized to release an offender into the community, or cause injury to international relations or national defence or security. This limitation clause is intended to ensure that the rights are interpreted and applied in a way that addresses victims' concerns while avoiding unintended or unjustified consequences for the criminal justice system.
Nothing in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights permits an individual to enter Canada or to remain in Canada longer than a previously authorized period, nor will it delay or prevent the removal of an individual or delay extradition proceedings.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights does not grant or remove the status of a party, intervener, or observer in any criminal proceedings from a victim, or anyone acting on the victim's behalf. An infringement of any of the rights included in the legislation does not create a cause of action, a right to damages, or a right of appeal from any decision or order.
Department of Justice Canada