JustResearch Edition no. 13

Research in Profile (cont'd)

Research in Profile (cont'd)

6. Summary of the Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada

Janet Graham, Research Officer, Research and Statistics Division


The Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals Across Canada was a comprehensive survey conducted by PRA Inc. for the Policy Centre for Victim Issues and the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada . PRA Inc. were contracted to undertake this survey as part of the Victims of Crime Initiative. Launched in 2000, this initiative works to increase the confidence of victims in the criminal justice system and responds to the needs of victims of crime as they relate to the Department of Justice Canada.

In keeping with these aims, the Multi-Site Survey is one of the principal research projects of the Victims of Crime Initiative. It studied specific issues relating to the promotion of access to justice, fair treatment, and assistance for victims of crime in the criminal justice system. The primary emphasis of the survey was Bill C-79. Adopted in 1999, this bill made amendments to the Criminal Code to enhance the safety, security, and privacy of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. Bill C-79 also sought to provide victims a voice in criminal justice proceedings through victim impact statements ( VIS ). Related amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act , implemented in 2001, gave victims an opportunity to give a prepared VIS at parole board hearings. The main objectives of the Multi-Site Survey were to gather information about:

The present article summarizes the methodology and findings of the Multi-Site Survey, providing glimpses of the depth and breadth of data available in this extensive research project. The survey's secondary focus on issues relating to restitution, conditional sentences, and restorative justice are not dealt with in this article.


The Multi-Site Survey was conducted in sixteen locations within the ten provinces of Canada. At least three sites were chosen within each of the five regions ( Atlantic , Quebec , Ontario , Prairie and Western). The sites selected comprise a variety of rural, urban, and northern locations; cities of several sizes; and, populations with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. A subcommittee of the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group on Victims of Crime recommended some of the sites and guided this research.

Victims of crime and all major groups of criminal justice professionals were surveyed in the sixteen selected sites in 2002. Criminal justice respondents included victim services providers (VS) and victim advocacy groups, judges, Crown attorneys, defence counsel, police, and parole, probation, and corrections personnel. Both quantitative and qualitative data were gathered. Interviews were conducted with 112 victims of crime and 214 criminal justice professionals. In addition, self-administered questionnaires were completed by 1,664 criminal justice professionals.[10] The use of questionnaires and in-depth interviews yielded a wide range of useful findings, which are briefly summarized below.[11]


This summary is structured to highlight the key findings according to legislative reforms and initiatives that were the primary emphasis of the Multi-Site Survey. It describes the main strengths and challenges identified related to these provisions, in addition to the main recommendations made by survey respondents.

Roles of Victims of Crime and Responsibilities of Criminal Justice Professionals to Victims in Criminal Justice Proceedings

Findings from the Multi-Site Survey revealed that there was general agreement among respondents who were criminal justice professionals that:

[V]ictims of crime have legitimate roles to play in the criminal justice process. Although victim services providers and advocacy organizations were the most supportive of an active role for victims, other criminal justice professionals also believe that victims are entitled to be consulted, particularly before irrevocable steps are taken.

Judges, Crown attorneys, and police, for example, reported that their primary responsibilities to victims of crime included keeping victims abreast of the status of their court case, providing opportunities for victims to voice their views, and consulting with victims at several points during legal processes. Nevertheless, criminal justice professionals also cautioned that victims' roles should be circumscribed. In their view, victims should not be the final decision-makers, as they may not comprehend all of the complexities of the legal system.

Information and Services Provided to Victims of Crime

Information and service provision are key aspects in responding to victims' needs and enhancing their experiences in criminal justice processes. Seventy-five of the 112 victims in the survey (67%) had been victimized by serious, violent crimes. In interviews, almost all victims reported that they had been referred to victim services and had received service. Victim respondents identified counselling, emotional support, and information provision as among the most helpful services. More than 75% of victim services reported responding to these needs by providing crisis support, information about court processes, and assistance in preparing victims for court. However, only half of victim services offered counselling.

Of the one third of victims surveyed whose cases were tried in court, almost all victims who testified had help in preparing for their court appearance. Usually, this assistance was provided by victim services. Slightly more than half of victims who testified felt prepared, most often due to the support they had received before and during testimony. Those victims who believed they were unprepared felt afraid, threatened, revictimized, or lacking in preparation time. Victims suggested more thorough explanations of court processes and enhanced, expanded protections for victims to improve their experience in testifying. Few victims surveyed were eligible for testimonial aids or protections to facilitate testimony and few victims received information about these provisions.

Victim respondents most wanted information about the status of the investigation and about the criminal justice system. The vast majority of victims received this information. Sixty percent of victims surveyed were satisfied with the amount, type, and timeliness of information they received. Those victims who reported being dissatisfied commonly focused on the lack of sufficient, accurate, consistent, or clear information. Most Crown attorneys, police, victim services, and advocacy groups believed that victims were given sufficient information about their cases. However, interviews with these groups revealed that heavy case loads cause difficulties in providing information to victims. Privacy issues and protections against information-sharing among agencies were also mentioned as obstacles to victims' access to information.

Additional impediments to information and service provision for victims of crime were pointed out and solutions explained. In interviews, some victims and victim services stressed that victims are often overwhelmed or traumatized by the crime. They emphasized that victims are usually unaware of available services. These groups recommended solutions such as routine contact and follow-up by police and Crown attorneys to keep victims informed; early contact with victims after the crime; more detailed oral and printed information; and the designation of a single source or agency responsible for information provision to victims. Similarly, cooperation and clear division of responsibilities between agencies were suggested by Crown attorneys, police, and victim services providers interviewed. Language and cultural barriers were identified as the greatest challenges by police, victim services, and victim advocacy groups. As responses to victimization can differ according to culture, cultural sensitivity training was suggested for victim services personnel. Financial issues (e.g., transportation and child care costs), lack of access to services in rural areas, and physical barriers for persons with disabilities were also among the obstacles mentioned by survey respondents.

Key Provisions Instituted in 1999 by Bill C-79, Amending the Criminal Code

Victims are given the right to read their victim impact statement at the time of sentencing

This legislative reform was adopted to make the criminal justice system more responsive to victims of crime. It gave victims an opportunity to inform the court of the loss suffered or the harm done by the crime through a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing of the offender and required that courts acknowledge the harm suffered by victims of crime.

Multi-Site Survey findings reveal that there is widespread application of this provision. Almost 80% of victims interviewed had received information about providing a VIS , usually from victim services. Almost two-thirds of victims involved in cases where charges were laid had prepared a VIS. Most victims chose to submit a written statement (rather than read it in court) and most victims had received some assistance in preparing their VIS from victim services providers.

However, more than half of defence counsel and Crown attorneys reported difficulties in using VIS (compared to less than one-third of victim services providers and police). About one-fifth of Crown attorneys, victim services, and police who were respondents agreed that irrelevant information in VIS was a problem. A few victims reported not being allowed to read their statement in court due to its inappropriate content, and several were frustrated by the obstacles they faced in submitting a VIS. About one-third (33%) of victim services providers stated that a lack of information and guidance to victims was the greatest impediment to preparing a VIS. Another third attributed victims' problems in VIS preparation to literacy or language barriers. Some Crown attorneys interviewed believed that a VIS can undermine their case and strengthen the defence.

Nevertheless, four-fifths of victims who prepared an impact statement were pleased that they had done so. Approximately half of victims surveyed believed that the VIS gave them a voice. One-fifth of victims valued the opportunity to have the judge and accused become aware of the impact of the crime. In interviews, victim services providers agreed.

One fifth of victims reported submitting their VIS early in the justice process, while just over half submitted it prior to the guilty plea or conviction. Timing of submission of VIS was controversial. On the one hand, 44% of Crown attorneys remarked that if the VIS is submitted too early, the victim is more vulnerable to being cross-examined by defence on the VIS. In their view, the VIS should be submitted only after guilt has been established. On the other hand, approximately half of the Crown attorneys and several victim services respondents believed early submission of VIS is preferable, as it may assist Crown to negotiate and judges to determine appropriate sentences.

The judge is required to inquire before sentencing whether the victim has been informed of the opportunity to give a victim impact statement

Although almost 80% of victims received information about providing a VIS , some problems were encountered. One-quarter of the victims whose offender had pled or had been found guilty reported that although they had not submitted a VIS , the judge had not asked them whether they had been given the opportunity to prepare a statement. Several victims reported not being informed of the possibility of reading their VIS , what to include in the statement, or where to submit it. These omissions may impact the outcome of the case, as about 80% of judges reported using the VIS in determining the severity of the crime and the sentence. Nevertheless, in interviews, judges explained that while the VIS provides information, its use is carefully limited, as judges must render decisions consistent with the Criminal Code . In interviews Crown attorneys agreed.

Victims expressed a variety of views regarding whether judges considered their VIS. Some of the Crown attorneys, defence counsel, and victims services providers interviewed also questioned whether responsibilities of criminal justice professionals were being fulfilled in relation to the VIS. There was uncertainty about whether police routinely inform victims about the VIS, whether Crown attorneys conscientiously pursue victims for their statements and submit those that are received. These questions were addressed in the survey findings. About 80% of the Crown attorneys stated they remind judges of VIS that are submitted. However, only about 25% of the Crown attorneys surveyed reported that they usually contact and remind victims who have not submitted a VIS. Although victim services providers are generally of the view that victims are informed about the VIS, 20% believe that they are not. In interviews, several important suggestions were offered, including: a mandatory or routine VIS notification process; the provision of VIS information to victims by all criminal justice professionals and victim services agencies during different stages of the criminal justice process; follow-up work conducted with victims, and public education campaigns. These suggestions sought to achieve optimal awareness and use of victim impact statements at the sentencing stage.

All offenders are required to pay a victim surcharge of 15% where a fine is imposed or a fixed amount of $50 or $100 for summary or indictable offences respectively

Bill C-79 requires the offender to pay the victim surcharge. It applies automatically, unless the offender can establish that its imposition would cause undue hardship. This surcharge provides increased revenue for provinces and territories for the purpose of enhancing and increasing victim services. These amounts are not given directly to victims.

Multi-Site Survey findings identified substantial difficulties relating to the victim surcharge. The most important obstacles were in collecting the victim surcharge from offenders. Slightly less than 60% of judges surveyed reported that they generally apply the victim surcharge. Approximately one-third of judges who do not usually apply the surcharge stated that the reason was that the offender was not able to pay. There was disagreement among other criminal justice respondent groups about whether waiver of the surcharge is used by judges in appropriate cases. The vast majority of defence counsel (90%) believe that the waiver is used correctly. On the other hand, two-thirds of Crown attorneys and victim service providers do not agree. Those respondents who see the waiver as being applied too infrequently believe it is due to such aspects as judicial attitudes or failure to include the surcharge as a part of judicial processes. Very few victims (3) interviewed reported the offender in their case had been ordered to pay the victim surcharge. Moreover, few victims were aware of this surcharge and its application was not made public by all courts.

The application of publication bans is clarified and discretionary orders, in appropriate circumstances, are provided on information that could disclose the identity of victims as witnesses

Only about one quarter of the judiciary participating in the Multi-Site Survey reported having granted a publication ban in cases involving non-sexual offences or excluding the public from attending a court case. In relation to publication bans, there was agreement among judges, Crown attorneys and defence counsel regarding the importance of preserving the principle of an open court, as it is vital to public confidence in criminal justice processes. Survey respondents reported publication bans are usually confined to sexual offences and applied to other cases only in exceptional circumstances.

Victims and witnesses under 18 years of age are protected from cross-examination by self-represented accused in cases involving sexual or personal violence offences

The main objective of this provision is to protect extremely vulnerable victims from revictimization by the accused. Cross-examination of a child victim and witnesses under 18 years of age is restricted in cases involving sexual or personal violence offences under Section 486 (2.3) of the Criminal Code . Only 20% of the judges and 25% of the Crown attorneys who were respondents reported being involved in a case in which this section was applied. A substantial majority of Crown attorneys among this group and more than 80% of judges reported complying with this provision and appointing counsel for the cross-examination in these cases. Yet, there were exceptions, as several judges reported having allowed the accused to cross-examine a young victim after the adoption of s.486 (2.3). Moreover, a few victim services providers interviewed mentioned that some victims do not prepare a VIS because they fear being cross-examined or questioned about its content.

Expansion of this provision to cover a wider range of cases was supported by three-quarters of victim services and advocacy groups, half of Crown attorneys, and one-quarter of defence counsel surveyed. Adult victims and witnesses in sexual and personal violence cases were seen as the most appropriate additional groups to receive protection against cross-examination by a self-represented accused.

Any victim or witness with a mental or physical disability may be accompanied by a support person while giving evidence

Protection for particularly vulnerable victims was the primary objective of this provision. Among all Multi-Site Survey respondent groups, there was broad agreement with the use of support persons to accompany victims or witnesses who are young or who have a mental or physical disability. This was also reported as the most widely adopted provision to facilitate testimony by victims surveyed. About 75% of the Crown attorneys surveyed reported generally requesting this support, and more than 80% of the judiciary reported usually granting these requests.

The safety of victims and witnesses must be taken into consideration in judicial decisions during interim release hearings (bail determinations)

There was also broad awareness and use of this provision by criminal justice professionals surveyed. Victim safety is an important consideration in bail determinations according to judges, Crown attorneys, defence counsel, and police surveyed. The most common method police reported using to ensure that the safety of victims was considered during bail hearings was a written submission to Crown attorneys which included recommended conditions for the offender's interim release. A substantial majority (approximately 70%) of victims interviewed reported having voiced their safety concerns, generally to the police. However, Multi-Site Survey findings reveal that those victims who had not expressed their safety concerns most often had not been asked about safety issues by criminal justice professionals. Moreover, victims are seldom called by the Crown as witnesses in bail hearings.

Nevertheless, almost all Crown attorneys reported requesting conditions on the offender's release that responded to the victim's safety concerns, which was also consistent with the experiences of defence counsel. Moreover, judges generally imposed conditions designed to protect victims. A substantial majority of judges stated they inquire about victim safety concerns when the Crown has not raised these issues. In interviews, judges explained that this is rarely required, as Crown attorneys are conscientious in protecting victims' safety. In contrast, only one-third of victim services and advocacy groups and two-fifths of victims involved in cases where the accused was charged agree that victim safety concerns are considered in bail decisions. Those victims holding this view most often saw problems as resulting from insufficient conditions or offenders failing to respect the conditions imposed. Moreover, while 80% of victims reported being informed if conditions were placed on the offender in cases where the offender received probation, only half of victims were informed of the conditions of release when the offender was released pending trial.

Multi-Site Survey findings provide useful information about the application of the provisions of Bill C-79 amending the Criminal Code . The following section reveals insights into awareness and use of legislative reforms relating to the post-sentencing stage of criminal justice processes.

Amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act Made It Possible for Victims of Crime to Provide a Victim Impact Statement at Parole Board Hearings

Multi-Site Survey findings show that application of this legislative reform remains a challenge. Approximately 75% of parole and corrections respondents perceive obstacles to victim participation in the post-sentencing stages. According to National Parole Board personnel surveyed, funding for victims wanting to attend hearings, awareness of victims about available services, and possibilities of participating are lacking. Provincial Parole Board personnel reported victim awareness as the greatest barrier to their participation at parole.

Nevertheless, victim impact statements were seen as useful. Parole respondents to the survey stated that both pre- and post-sentencing VIS are considered by parole boards. National Parole Board personnel reported that this information is used in assessing risk, specifying conditions, and gauging the progress of offenders. Provincial personnel identified VIS as assisting the Parole Board in making decisions. Of the 112 victims interviewed in the survey, one victim reported submitting a VIS to a parole board. Moreover, only a few parole and corrections respondents surveyed reported that victims participate in parole hearings.

In particular, survey findings show that there are significant challenges to adequate information and service provision to victims during the post-sentencing phase. According to the survey:

Just under half of victims involved in a case where the offender was eligible for parole received information about the offenders' eligibility. Of those involved in a case where a parole hearing had been set or had occurred, one third were informed of the dates, and in instances where parole had been granted, about one-third were informed of release dates, conditions imposed on release dates, conditions imposed on release, and the destination of the offender on release.

Parole and corrections personnel pointed out that victims do not receive information at the post-sentencing stage largely due to the requirement for victims to register with the National Parole Board or Correctional Service Canada prior to receiving information. In interviews, few victims reported being aware of this requirement. The post-sentencing stage appears to be one of the key phases of criminal justice proceedings requiring further improvements in the future.


The Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals Across Canada provides important insights into the awareness and implementation of several initiatives and legislative reforms intended to benefit victims of crime. The survey focuses on the roles of victims of crime and the responsibilities of criminal justice professionals to victims in criminal justice proceedings; information and services provided to victims of crime; and awareness and use of Bill C-79 and specific amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act . Survey findings from the responses of victims of crime and all major groups of criminal justice professionals identify successes, obstacles, and suggestions for improvements relating to these reforms.

Information from the Multi-Site Survey advances understandings of how better to protect victims' safety, security, and privacy. It also illuminates ways to enhance victim participation and experiences in the justice system, emphasizing greater access to justice, fair treatment, and assistance for victims of crime in criminal justice processes.

The comprehensive Multi-Site Survey is an exceptional source of useful information for members of the public interested in victims' issues, victims of crime, and criminal justice professionals. Ultimately, findings from this survey will advance the objectives of the Victims of Crime Initiative by informing future policies and legislative reforms intended to improve responses to the needs of victims of crime and to increase victims' confidence in the criminal justice system.