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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Yunesit'in Government in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service will be conducting a prescribed burn seven kilometres west of the community and 25 kilometres south of Alexis Creek on the south side of the Chilcotin River. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Prescribed burning planned to reduce wildfire risk near Yunesit’in

Burning may begin as early as April 13 in partnership with BC Wildfire Service

An aerial view of the Williams Lake Stockyards taken during a flyover in 2020. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake Bull Show and Sale in its 84th year

This year’s sale will be online and in person

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society communications officer Brianna van de Wijngaard reflects on World Water Day March 22. (Photo submitted)
DOWN TO EARTH: World Water Day means something different for everyone

This year’s World Water Day theme was Valuing Water

Williams Lake Cycling Club president Shawn Lewis (from left), Jeremy Stoward of New Path Forestry, WLCC Boitanio Bike Park director Andrew Hutchinson accept a cheque from Williams Lake and District Credit Union investment specialist Abigail King. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Cycling Club gets bike park donation to bolster upgrades, maintenance

Plans are to complete three rideable lines each year, he added

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Most Read