Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals Across Canada

4. Findings From Criminal Justice Professionals (continued)

4. Findings From Criminal Justice Professionals (continued)

4.14 Victim Participation at Parole

When asked whether most victims participate in various aspects of the correctional process, overall the main finding is that victims either do not participate or participate only in serious cases. NPB respondents reported the highest level of victim participation in the area of requesting information about the offender's parole eligibility and hearing; almost half said that most victims request this information in either most cases (27%) or only in serious cases (22%). For the remaining types of participation (providing new or additional information for use in conditional release, attending parole board hearings as observers, or presenting the statement in person or via audio or videotape) about one-third of NPB respondents reported that most victims participate only in serious cases. Few reported that most victims participate in most cases. CSC respondents perceive an even lower level of participation than NPB respondents in these areas.

Few provincial parole board respondents believe that victims generally participate. Even in serious cases, less than one-third reported that most victims participate. Table 87 below provides the complete results.

Table 87 : Victim participation in parole or correctional processes

About three-quarters of the national (73%) and provincial (77%) parole board respondents and 86% of CSC respondents believe that there are obstacles to victim participation in the parole or correctional process.[39] The main barriers cited by NPB and CSC respondents are the lack of funding to assist victims who want to attend parole board hearings, and the lack of victim awareness of ways in which they can participate in the parole process and of the support services available. CSC respondents also emphasize that support services for victims in the parole process are insufficient. Provincial parole board respondents perceive lack of funding for victims to attend parole hearings as less of an obstacle. Instead, they consider the lack of victim awareness of their opportunities for participation and the support services available; insufficient support services; and lack of victim knowledge of when applications are required as the primary obstacles to victim participation. See Table 88 for the complete results.

Obstacles: National Parole Board (n=62) Correctional Service Canada (n=25) Provincial parole board (n=17)
Lack of funding for victims who want to attend hearings 76% 68% 35%
Victims are not aware of the ways they can participate 69% 76% 94%
Victims are unaware of support services available 61% 56% 65%
Support services for victims are insufficient 48% 60% 71%
Victims do not know when an application is required 42% 48% 65%
Registration requirements 16% -- --
Distance, travel or transportation 11% 12% --
Insufficient notice 8% -- --
Information-sharing policy 8% -- --
Fear or intimidation and/or unwillingness to face offender 5% 16% 12%
Other 8% 16% 29%
No response 2% -- --

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; totals sum to more than 100%.

4.15 Information for Criminal Justice Professionals

As shown in Table 89, there is considerable discrepancy among the proportion of victim services providers, Crown Attorneys, defence counsel, and police surveyed who believe that they are adequately informed of the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims. Almost three-quarters of Crown Attorneys believe that they are adequately informed, compared to 40% of defence counsel and police, and 32% of victim services providers.

  Victim Services (N=318) Crown Attorneys (N=188) Defence Counsel (N=185) Police (N=686)
Yes 32% 71% 40% 40%
No 40% 20% 49% 46%
Don't know 25% 9% 11% 13%
No response 3% 1% 1% 1%

Note: Some columns to sum to more than 100% due to rounding.

In interviews, Crown Attorneys mentioned receiving copies of the new provisions as well as summaries of changes as they are implemented; or occasionally attending seminars, conferences, and training. In their view, this is usually sufficient to keep them well informed. Several Crown Attorneys pointed out that, in any case, it is their professional obligation to remain up to date on changes to the law. However, a few said that it is sometimes difficult to stay current with the pace of legislative change due to the frequency with which such changes have been made in recent years and due to workload and time constraints. Nevertheless, Crown Attorneys who believe they are not adequately informed had few suggestions for measures to improve the situation. They recommended information sessions or seminars, bulletins, briefs, guidelines and reference sheets from the federal Department of Justice.

Defence counsel who were interviewed also consider it their professional responsibility to remain current with legislative change. Among those surveyed who believe that they are not adequately informed, one-third said that professional organizations like the Canadian Bar Association and provincial law societies are the appropriate entities to provide them with information about changes to legislation. Other suggestions included information sessions or seminars, e-mail updates, and bulletins and briefs from the federal Department of Justice.

In interviews, police described various internal police systems for disseminating information, including not only distribution of printed materials, but also regular internal briefings, internal e-mail notification of legislative changes, and training workshops and seminars when there are numerous changes. Nevertheless, several also explained that while information is available, the onus is on each officer to keep up to date on new legislative provisions, and some officers are more diligent in this respect than others. A few interviewees pointed out that this has created a situation where knowledge of Criminal Code provisions regarding victims varies quite widely among individual officers. Among police officers surveyed who believe they are inadequately informed of Criminal Code provisions to benefit victims, more than 60% recommended increased training, while about one-fifth suggested improved distribution of information.

Among victim services providers who think that they are inadequately informed of the Criminal Code provisions designed to benefit victims, the most commonly proposed suggestion - mentioned by two-thirds of respondents - was increased training opportunities. In interviews, victim services providers expressed a preference for seminars and workshops where they can actively participate in discussions and ask questions. Several victim services providers observed in interviews that training is generally not a priority due to lack of human and financial resources. For this reason, they would like to see additional written materials sent to them so they could learn about the provisions on their own time. In fact, increased circulation of booklets, manuals, newsletters, and other print materials was the second most common suggestion for improving victim services providers' knowledge of the relevant provisions. In interviews, a few victim services providers said that the federal Department of Justice should take on a more active role in informing victim services workers of the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims, by providing regular updates and funding training sessions.

4.16 Impact of Criminal Code Provisions

All respondent groups, except for probation and parole, were asked what, in their opinion, has been accomplished by the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims. Respondents identified numerous outcomes that they believe have resulted from the Criminal Code provisions. However, a large proportion of each respondent group did not answer the question. Many (particularly victim services providers) noted on the questionnaire that they did not know enough about the Criminal Code provisions to comment. In total, about half of victim services providers and police, one-third of advocacy groups, and a quarter of judges, Crown Attorneys, and defence counsel did not answer this question.

A number of respondents from all groups who were asked about the impact of the provisions (i.e., judges, Crown Attorneys, victim services, police, defence counsel, and advocacy groups) said that they have provided a more balanced criminal justice system. Crown Attorneys and judges emphasized this point the most, with about one-quarter of judges (24%) and one-fifth of Crown Attorneys (19%) identifying this outcome, compared to about one-tenth of victim services providers and defence counsel and an even smaller percentage of police and advocacy groups.

In interviews, Crown Attorneys and victim services providers said that the rights of victims have been formally recognized within the criminal justice system through the Criminal Code provisions and that, as a result, there is greater awareness of and sensitivity to needs of victims on the part of judges and prosecutors. The increased profile of the victim within the system, in turn, has led to enhanced services for victims, a more approachable and personal system that responds better to victims' needs, and victims who are more informed about the criminal justice process and the status of their own case. Judges concurred, commenting in interviews that the provisions have led to more uniform consideration of victims in the courts, to a more balanced criminal justice system, and to increased credibility of the system in the eyes of the public.

All six respondent groups also mentioned that the provisions have given victims a voice in the system. About one-quarter of judges and Crown Attorneys cited this as an accomplishment of the Criminal Code provisions, as did about one-tenth of the remaining respondent groups. Several Crown Attorneys commented in their interviews that the Criminal Code provisions give victims a voice in the process and an opportunity to provide input, particularly through victim impact statements. However, several others worried that the victim impact statement, as an unintended consequence, may have created the false impression among some victims that they are entitled to make sentencing recommendations. Others mentioned the possibility of defence counsel cross-examination on the victim impact statement and said that such statements can make the victim more vulnerable if they conflict with other evidence or the victim's earlier statements. About 5% of Crown Attorneys surveyed mentioned negative effects of the victim impact statement.

Victim services providers had a more positive view of victim impact statements with 5% of those surveyed commenting on the role of the statements in giving victims a voice and empowering victims. In interviews, several stated that the number of victims submitting victim impact statements is increasing and that the option of reading the victim impact statement is a very positive development. A few of those surveyed (1%) mentioned negative effects of victim impact statements stemming from the disclosure to defence counsel and possibilities of cross-examination of victims on their statements.

Some judges, Crown Attorneys, and victim services providers also believe that victims are now more satisfied with the criminal justice system. In the survey, 16% of judges and 11% each of Crown Attorneys and victim services providers listed this as an impact of the Criminal Code provisions. In interviews, Crown Attorneys and judges explained further that the provisions have increased victim confidence in the criminal justice system and made victims more willing to participate in it. In particular, several Crown Attorneys said that the provisions have made it easier for victims to report crimes and to testify in court. In addition, by better protecting victims, the legislation has created more reliable witnesses who are willing to provide open and complete testimony in court. In the survey, 12% of judges, 7% of Crown Attorneys, and 3% of victim services providers mentioned better protection of victims; and 9% of Crown Attorneys mentioned making testimony easier as accomplishments of the Criminal Code provisions. The results discussed above are shown in Table 90.

Table 90 : What has been accomplished by the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims?

While these results show that many Crown Attorneys and judges believe that the legislative changes have improved the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system, others cautioned that it is impossible to accommodate everything that victims want in an adversarial system. There was considerable concern among Crown Attorneys, judges, and defence counsel that the provisions have inadvertently created unrealistic expectations on the part of some victims about both the level of their involvement and how that involvement might affect any decisions made. These respondents worried that if expectations are not met, this could cause disappointment or resentment (9% of Crown Attorneys, 16% of judges, and 15% of defence counsel).

Another concern was the effect of the provisions on the ability of Crown Attorneys to make independent legal decisions in their capacity as representatives of the state. This possible curtailment of Crown Attorney discretion is a larger issue for defence counsel (17%) than for Crown Attorneys (3%) or judges (2%). In interviews, several defence counsel expressed the concern that criminal justice professionals, particularly Crown Attorneys, have deviated from or abandoned their professional roles because of pressures to include the victim in the process.

Other concerns about the provisions come primarily from defence counsel. However, Crown Attorneys and judges as well as defence counsel (9%, 6%, and 11 %, respectively) commented on the delays in the process caused by the provisions (e.g., the time required to consult with victims, or the adjournments needed to inform victims of victim impact statements). Defence counsel also believe that the provisions have eroded accused rights (10%), have achieved mainly political objectives (9%), and have reduced judicial independence (7%).

Some respondents in all categories said they believe that the Criminal Code provisions have accomplished little or nothing. Police and advocacy groups most often cited this concern (27% and 15%, respectively). Twelve percent of Crown Attorneys and victim services providers also expressed this belief. In interviews, victim services providers explain this lack of progress. They believe that victims remain largely uninformed of their rights and options within the criminal justice system, which continues to be mainly offender-focused; and that victims are not as involved as they should be. According to these respondents, victims continue to be traumatized by their experience within the criminal justice system and therefore continue to see the system in a negative light. Results are given in Table 91.

Table 91 : Have there been any unintended or unexpected consequences to the Criminal Code provisions intented to benefit victims?

In summary, while all respondent groups included some comments on the limitations of the impact of the Criminal Code provisions, most reflections on the provisions revealed positive accomplishments. The two biggest accomplishments are the creation of a more balanced criminal justice system through increased awareness of the concerns and interests of victims; and the provision of more formal mechanisms to ensure that the victims have opportunities to participate and have a voice in the system.

[39] National and provincial parole board respondents were only asked about the parole process, and CSC respondents were asked about the correctional or parole process.

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