Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada: Summary of Police Respondents
Findings from Police Officer Respondents (continued)
The 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code include several provisions to protect the safety of victims of crime in bail determinations. The provisions direct police officers, judges, and justices of the peace to consider the safety and security of the victim in decisions to release the accused pending the first court appearance; require judges to consider no-contact conditions and any other conditions necessary to ensure the safety and security of the victim; and ensure that the particular concerns of the victim are considered and highlighted in decisions on the imposition of special bail conditions. This section describes police practices with respect to victim protection in bail determinations, and discusses the extent to which victim services providers and advocacy groups believe that victim safety is considered at bail.
Police Practices at Bail
Police who were interviewed were unanimous in stating that considering victim safety is an essential responsibility for police immediately following an arrest and at the point of any release proceedings. The larger group of police surveyed in this research reported using a variety of methods to ensure that victims' safety concerns are considered at bail hearings. Over one-third reported preparing a written submission with recommendations for specific bail conditions following a thorough investigation and/or an objective assessment of risk (35%); others simply said that they consult with and pass information on to the Crown Attorney for consideration (21%). Some police attend bail hearings to speak on behalf of the victim or even encourage the victim to attend (15%), while still others said that they consult with the victim and obtain their statement (13%). A small proportion indicated opposing release outright when the victim's safety is at risk.
In interviews, several police cautioned that while it is important to listen to victims' concerns, police must remain objective in their determination of the level of risk to the victim. They pointed out that emotion could lead victims to make exaggerated claims and overestimate the risk posed by the accused. Police must therefore exercise judgment when reporting or making recommendations to the Crown Attorney. Several police also pointed out that in some cases (particularly domestic violence), victims underestimate the risk posed by the accused and will disagree with police requests for conditions such as no-contact orders. These interviewees noted that these are cases in which they will not necessarily promote the wishes of the victim.
Consideration of Victim Safety at Bail
Despite the results from the surveys and interviews with police, which suggest that they are concerned about protection of the victim at bail, only 30% of victim services providers and one-quarter of advocacy groups surveyed believe that the victim's safety is generally considered in decisions about bail and conditions of release, although several victim services providers acknowledged in interviews that there has been substantial evolution in this regard and that police are very sensitive to safety issues.
Victim impact statements (VIS) are written statements in which victims can describe the effect of the crime on them and any harm or loss suffered as a result of the crime. The 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code allow victims to read their statements aloud during sentencing, require the judge to ask before sentencing whether the victim has been informed of the opportunity to complete a VIS and permit the judge to adjourn the sentencing, to give the victim time to prepare the statement.
Frequency of Submission
Police respondents were asked whether, based on their experience, victims generally submit victim impact statements to the court. As to the frequency with which victim impact statements are submitted, about half of police respondents (46%) believe that victims generally submit victim impact statements only in serious cases, such as sexual assault, other violent offences, and certain property crimes. About one-third think that victim impact statements are submitted in most cases, and about one-fifth reported that in their experience, victims usually do not submit victim impact statements, regardless of the severity of the offence.
The results for frequency of submission of victim impact statements are provided in Table 7. These results include only those respondents who provided an answer to this question.
Obstacles to Use of Victim Impact Statements
As shown in Table 8 below, about one-fifth (19%) of police believe that there are obstacles to the use of victim impact statements. Over a third of police could not provide an answer.
Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; totals sum to more than 100%.
Police were asked to explain why they believe there are obstacles to or problems with the use of victim impact statements. Table 9 shows the main reasons cited; the results are discussed in more detail below.
The need to disclose the victim impact statement to defence counsel creates the possibility of defence counsel objections to the victim impact statement or cross-examination on the statement either at trial or sentencing. This was an important obstacle for police (21%), leading to victims or Crown Attorneys not submitting victim impact statements.
Another equally important obstacle to the use of victim impact statements mentioned by police is time constraints such that victims do not always have enough time to complete the statement (this occurs most often in cases where a plea is quickly agreed to).
In recent years, restorative justice approaches have become more widely used at all stages of criminal proceedings. Restorative justice considers the wrong done the person as well as the wrong done to the community. Restorative justice programs involve the victim(s) or a representative, the offender(s), and community representatives. The offender is required to accept responsibility for the crime and take steps to repair the harm he or she has caused. In this way restorative approaches can restore peace and equilibrium within a community and can afford victims of crime greater opportunities to participate actively in decision-making. However, concerns have been raised about victim participation and voluntary consent, and support to victims in a restorative process. This study included several exploratory questions to discover the extent to which criminal justice professionals have participated in restorative justice approaches and their views on the appropriateness and effectiveness of these approaches.
Participation in Restorative Justice Approaches
The majority of police (80%) have not participated in a restorative justice approach, with less than one-fifth indicated having ever participated in a restorative justice process (Table 10).
The respondents who have participated in a restorative process reported having been involved in various restorative approaches, including sentencing and healing circles, diversion, mediation, and community and youth justice forums. As Table 11 below shows, police are most likely to have participated prior to charges being laid.
Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; totals sum to more than 100%.
Table 12 below shows the most common explanations for respondents' lack of involvement in restorative justice. The most common reason is that restorative approaches are not available or not yet widely used in their province. It was suggested that there may be a perception among some members of the police that restorative justice is only to be applied in cases involving Aboriginal people.
A sizeable proportion of respondents explained that restorative justice had never come up as an option or that they had never had a case suitable for restorative justice. Other common explanations for respondents' non-participation in restorative justice were that such approaches do not protect the victim adequately and that such approaches do not act as a deterrent.
Certain respondents gave other reasons for their non-participation in restorative justice, which do not appear in the table below. For example, 8% of police attributed their non-participation in restorative justice to their lack of knowledge about it. Six percent of police reported that it is not part of their job responsibility to become involved in restorative processes.
|No opportunity or no suitable case
|Do not adequately protect victim
|Do not act as a deterrent
|Don't know or No response
Victim Involvement in Restorative Justice
With regard to the extent to which victims are involved in the decision to use restorative justice approaches, the majority of police (80%) think that consultation with the victim always take place (Table 13).
|Victim is always involved
|Victim is sometimes involved
|Victim is seldom involved
Note: Some columns do not sum to 100% due to rounding.
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