Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada: Summary of Victims of Crime Respondents: Summary of Victims of Crime Respondents
- 3.6 Other Criminal Code Provisions and Restorative Justice
- 3.7 Victim Respondents' Overview of their Experiences
This section briefly discusses victims' experiences with respect to restitution, the victim surcharge, conditional sentences, and restorative justice. Overall, very small proportions of victims had relevant experience with these provisions.
Restitution requires the offender to compensate the victim for any monetary loss or any quantifiable damage to, or loss of, property. The court can order restitution as a condition of probation, where probation is the appropriate sentence, or as an additional sentence (a stand-alone restitution order), which allows the victim to file the order in civil court and enforce it civilly if not paid.
Victims who were involved in a case where there was a conviction or guilty plea (n=72) were asked whether the court ordered restitution in their case. Eleven reported that restitution was ordered in their case. Ten of these respondents answered subsequent questions pertaining to restitution.
Five victims said they were given information about restitution after the crime was committed, and two reported being aware of restitution as a sentencing option. Information about restitution was provided by victim services in three cases and by the Crown Attorney in one case; one victim (speaking on behalf of a corporate entity) received information through her employment. Four out of the five victims who received information said that the information explained restitution so that they knew how to request it. Two of the five victims said that the information they received was unclear or incomplete; in particular, it was not clear what they had to do to collect restitution.
Of the victims who said that restitution was ordered in their case, five reported that the offender did not pay the full amount of the order; three said that the time to pay the order has not expired; and one said the offender did pay the full amount. The remaining victim, speaking on behalf of a corporate entity that had been the target of multiple crimes, reported that the corporation's experience was that offenders sometime pay the full amount of the restitution order.
Victims who were granted restitution mentioned encountering several difficulties with enforcing these orders, including not receiving the payment or the full amount of the payment; waiting longer than expected to receive payment; not knowing what to do to enforce the orders; and not being informed of a payment schedule. The victim representing a corporate entity noted the greater difficulty in collecting payment in cases of stand-alone restitution orders compared to probation orders.
The victim surcharge is a penalty of 15% where a fine is imposed or a fixed amount of $50 or $100 for summary or indictable offences, respectively, and can be increased by the judge. It is imposed on the offender at sentencing and used by provincial and territorial governments to fund services for victims of crime. The 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code made the surcharge automatic in all cases except where the offender has requested a waiver and demonstrated that paying the surcharge would cause undue hardship.
The 72 victims involved in a case where there was a conviction or guilty plea were also asked if they were aware of the victim surcharge. Nine of these victims reported being aware of the surcharge. Three found out about the surcharge from victim services, two found out through the news media, and one each found out in court, through personal experience, or from a victim advocacy group. One could not recall how she was informed about the surcharge.
Three of the nine victims reported that the offender in their case was ordered to pay the surcharge. Four said the offender was not ordered to pay the surcharge (they did not know why) and two did not know if the offender in their case was ordered to pay the surcharge.
The Criminal Code permits judges to order that sentences of less than two years' imprisonment be served in the community instead of in jail. Conditional sentences may be imposed only when the court is convinced that the offender poses no threat to public safety. They are accompanied by restrictive conditions that govern the behaviour of the offender and strictly curtail his or her freedom.
Victims involved in cases where the accused was convicted or pleaded guilty were asked if the offender was given a conditional sentence in their case. Seventeen of these victims reported that a conditional sentence was imposed. Nine of the 17 victims said that they disagreed with the decision to impose a conditional sentence; the remaining eight agreed with the conditional sentence. The majority of the victims (n=14) said that they were informed of the details of the conditional sentence, such as the conditions imposed on the offender. Six learned the details because they were present at court during the sentencing hearing; another five found out about the details of the sentence from victim services, and the remainder found out from the Crown Attorney or from police.
When asked what input victims of crime should have in the conditions attached to conditional sentences, victims said that they should have extensive input as a means of ensuring that the court considers all relevant information when making sentencing decisions, and in order to ensure that victims' safety concerns are considered.
In recent years, restorative justice approaches have become more widely used at all stages of criminal proceedings. Restorative approaches seek to restore peace and equilibrium within a community by requiring the accused to accept responsibility for their actions and by reconciling them with whomever they have wronged. Restorative approaches can afford victims of crime greater opportunities to participate actively in decision-making than does the traditional criminal justice system and, in theory, may increase victims' satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of their case.
Victims involved in cases where charges were laid (n=102) were asked if they were given information about restorative justice processes after the crime. Three said that they were given such information. The information was provided by the Crown Attorneys in two cases (in one of these cases, the Crown Attorney provided the information at the request of the victim), and by the victim's parents in the other. One of the three victims was simply told that restorative justice could not be used because the offender did not plead guilty. The second received general information about restorative justice, and the third said that the information explained other ways that the case might be handled.
All victims involved in cases where charges were laid were also asked if whether a restorative justice approach was used in their case. The vast majority (90%) reported that such an approach was not used. The remainder did not know or did not respond.
To provide an overview of their experiences, all 112 victim respondents were asked how well the criminal justice system considers victims of crime and, at the end of the interview, were offered the opportunity to provide any further comments.
As shown in Table 30, when asked how well the criminal justice system considers victims of crime, about half of the victims said that the criminal justice system does a good job, while just over one-quarter said that it does a poor job. One-fifth said that the system's consideration of victims of crime falls somewhere in between. The remaining victims characterized the system in some other way or did not provide an answer.
|How Well the Criminal Justice System Does in Considering Victims:||Victims (N=112)|
|In between or depends||19||17%|
|Don't know or No response||8||7%|
Note: Total does not sum to 100% due to rounding.
Many victims chose to comment on their experiences with different criminal justice professionals. Thirty (27%) found the police helpful, sympathetic and supportive, and emphasized that the police took their concerns seriously. Sixteen (14%) victims were dissatisfied with their interactions with police. They believe that the police lacked sensitivity and considered their case to be just another file. They also thought that their claims were not taken seriously. A few found it difficult to get information from the police.
Victims were much more divided in their experiences with the Crown Attorney. Thirteen had positive comments to make about the Crown Attorney, and 16 expressed dissatisfaction. Those who were dissatisfied gave a variety of reasons: they did not understand the court procedures and wanted more explanation from the Crown Attorney; they had several different Crown Attorneys; they wanted more contact with the Crown Attorney; or they felt that the Crown Attorney was unprepared. Victims with positive comments usually just said that the Crown Attorney had done a good job. A few provided more details: they appreciated the sympathy shown to them by the Crown Attorney; or the Crown Attorney worked to get a plea so they would not have to testify, which they appreciated.
Fewer victims mentioned victim services or the court. One victim said that victim services did not respond to questions in a timely manner, but 11 victims only had positive comments. They mostly commented that victim services treated them well and gave them the support they needed. While four victims had favourable comments on the court, 10 did not. Those who were dissatisfied primarily mentioned the inadequacy of the offender's sentence or the related belief that they were not considered or listened to.
When asked if they had any other comments about their experiences in the criminal justice system that they would like to share with those responsible for drafting legislation and developing policy, victims most often mentioned their perception that the system favours the accused (n=24 or 21%). Victims believe that the system does not hold criminals accountable for their actions because the sentences are too lenient. A few commented that they initiate the action but then the law does little to make the effort worthwhile. They also objected to the many rights of the accused compared to victims. In particular, they commented on the fact that the accused receives information about the victim while the victim cannot get details about the accused.
About one-fifth of victims (n=20) believe that the system does not treat victims with respect. They felt ignored by the system and believe that a lack of understanding and compassion permeates the criminal justice process. The words “respect” and “dignity” were often used when describing how victims wished they were treated. A few felt treated as if they were accused, or believed that the system judged them on the basis of their race or what they did for a living.
Fourteen victims addressed the need for financial assistance or additional victim compensation. Most victims simply commented that compensation should be available for economic losses. Several victims specifically mentioned the need for financial assistance with expenses incurred to attend court, such as transportation, parking and meal expenses. A few victims who lived far from the courthouse said that transportation expenses created a barrier to attending court. Relatives of murder victims raised the need for financial assistance with cleaning the murder scene in instances where the deceased's relatives would otherwise have to clean it themselves.
Eleven victims said that they needed more information, in particular about the criminal justice system, while six felt that they were kept informed. Those who wanted more information found the system complex and confusing and said that victims need to both understand the system and know what to expect. In particular, victims need to be prepared for the length of the process and delays involved. Eight victims commented that the process is too lengthy and that the delays are very stressful and disruptive to victims' lives.
Several victims (n=8) spoke in favour of expanding victim services to cover situations where no charges are laid and where the accused is found not guilty. They noted that services do not typically extend to these situations; however, victims still need assistance and support to deal with the aftermath of the crime or the verdict. Victims who had received these services (e.g., telephone call from victim services on the anniversary of the crime) expressed gratitude for the concern and thoughtfulness this displayed. Other victims wanted services to extend beyond sentencing. They wanted information about the offender's activities after sentencing. Given that some services are available for victims; these comments demonstrate a gap in connecting victims with these services. Four victims commented that they believe that parole and probation victim services should offer their assistance to victims; victims should not have to ask.
To summarize, about half of victims rated the job done by the criminal justice system in considering victims as good. This positive impression appears to be largely based on their experiences with particular individuals in the system (i.e., their victim services provider, the Crown Attorney or the police officer who worked on their case). However, as seen in the above discussion, when asked if they wanted to share any of their experiences in the criminal justice system with those responsible for drafting legislation and developing policy, victims provided more critical comments that covered a range of issues: they perceive the system as favouring the accused; victims need to be treated with more respect; there is a need for more financial assistance and victim compensation; the provision of information to victims could be improved; and victim services should be expanded to cover situations where no charges are laid or the accused is found not guilty.
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