Daily Brew

Complex victims’ rights bill puts advocates at odds

Daily Brew

The Conservative government's push to embed victims rights deeply into the Canadian justice system is turning out to be more complex than expected.

CBC News reports the government has extended the consultation period for its victims bill of rights legislation by two months to allow for more comments.

The Department of Justice web site on the bill says the deadline for online public consultation expires Sept. 3.

The proposed legislation would greatly expand the participation of victims at all phases of a case and entrench their role in law, instead of leaving it a matter of policy.

Changes are welcomed by victims-rights advocates but just who would administer and pay for the new regime is at issue.

[ Related: Victims of crime need more support, says ombudsman ]

CBC News said Sue O'Sullivan, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, has tabled 30 recommendations, including measures to enforce restitution orders and legal support for victims as a case proceeds through the courts, and afterward when the criminal comes up for parole.

O'Sullivan is also recommending the government consider "nationally-consistent" supports and enforcement, given most victim services are administered by the provinces. Spokeswoman Christina McDonald told CBC News who covers the costs will depend on the final form of the bill and its implementation.

McDonald added that balancing the rights of offenders and victims is crucial to a healthy justice system. But O'Sullivan's predecessor, Steve Sullivan, worries the effect of the rights legislation will be limited and money needed to provide public services could end up going to lawyers' fees and administrative costs.

[ More Brew: Mother served with lawsuit two years after son killed in CN Rail crash ]

"It's not going to enhance public safety," Sullivan, now executive director of Ottawa Victims' Services, told CBC News.

"It could enhance the satisfaction of some victims in the system, which is a good thing, but I think when you weigh the potential costs of that versus what we could do with the same money in other areas which actually could enhance their lives and public safety, I think there are other things we could be doing like affordable housing and community services."

The other danger, he said, is that it could further degrade the already over-taxed justice system as applications under the victims bill of rights are tacked on to court proceedings.

"We're seeing frustrations with delays in the system now – it potentially could get worse," Sullivan told CBC News.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson gave no indication of when the final draft of the legislation would be tabled in Parliament.

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