Omnibus crime bill ignores the true victims

NationalPost.com –
Nov 7, 2011.   By Steve Sullivan

rime Minister Stephen Harper promised to pass his Omnibus Crime Bill in 100 days and his government is on track. The Commons Justice Committee is hearing a little from a lot of witnesses and most are being cut off mid-sentence. The Committee is moving at lightning speed.

Government officials say Bill C-10 will “provide support and protection for victims of crime.” They herald it as a “fundamental pillar of our commitment to victims of crime.” They promise it will “ensure justice for victims of crime and terrorism.” With Stephen Harper’s government, “victims come first.”

Having advocated for victims of crime for almost 20 years, I reviewed the proposed legislation. In the hundreds of pages of would-be law, I found only a few that deal with victims. Among those are several provisions that enhance the rights of victims in the corrections and parole system. These are important provisions, but were first introduced in 2005 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

The provisions to toughen sentencing for sex offenders will be welcomed by most. Few of us lose sleep over child-sex offenders spending more time in prison. But some of the reforms will toughen the sentences for low-risk offenders, with low rates of recividism. They won’t make children safer, but will cost five times more than what is being invested in Child Advocacy Centres that support abused children.

While the Commons Committee is rushing through Bill C-10, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is reviewing Bill C-46, which was passed in 1997 to protect the private records of sexual assault complainants. The Committee heard evidence that over 80% of victims do not report to the police. Bill C-10 doesn’t offer much for these women beyond eliminating most conditional sentences for sexual assault, and does nothing to help the four out of five victims who stay silent.

There is no evidence that women are not reporting because sentencing is too low. In a Department of Justice Study, female sexual assault victims were asked what they would do to fix the system and few said toughen sentencing. Most said stop blaming the victim, provide women with more support, invest in more prevention. A few even talked about treatment for offenders and centres for men who were victimized as children.

None of that will be accomplished by this bill.

The government’s claims of what Bill C-10 will do for victims are more rhetoric than reality. It will not help the woman who is being terrorized in her home. It will not build one more Child Advocacy Centre to support abused children. It will not make the decisions of at-risk youth any easier and it won’t give more support to victims of sexual assault.

Canadians are not wrong to want to see the perpeptrators of violent crimes punished for their deeds. But it is hard to argue with the evidence of Jamie Chaffe, from the Canadian Crown Attorney’s Association, who has warned MPs that the justice system cannot handle the increased workload of this bill and the ones before it. In Ontario, for example, Crowns can already only go to trial for 7-8% of all cases. The remainder must be dealt with through non-judicial diversion programs, plea bargains or simply dropped charges. Adding to the workload of our prosecutors and judges will only result in more cases being dealt with in these ways.

There is no evidence that the billions the governments are going to spend on this crime agenda will enhance justice for victims of crime. The Conservatives need to consider the implications of their proposed bill, and ask themselves if they’re truly willing to put the needs of victims first.

National Post

Steve Sullivan has been an advocate for victims of crime for almost two decades, and was the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime. He is currently executive director of Ottawa Victim Services.

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1 Comment

  1. I think it is interesting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is passing this Bill that he says will support and protect victims of sexual crimes, when it is really doing little at all to help them. Steve Sullivan mentions that this bill will basically only increase the jail sentence of those who commit these types of crimes. Having a strong opinion on this particular subject, I firmly believe if that if a law will be passed to help these individuals, it should have an impact on multiple members of the community.
    If Stephen Harper is planning helping victims of these crimes by passing this Bill, he should not just be increasing the jail sentence time of the offenders. I believe this is an important part of helping the victims, due to the fact that these offenders are permanently negatively affecting each victim’s life, however this should not be the only way to help the victims. First, each of these offenders should receive special treatment; otherwise throwing them in jail would be pointless. They would be out in a few years, just to return to their old habits. Secondly, there should be money put in to support and counselling for adults and children who are victims. Maybe a centre built in the community where they can go and receive counselling, meet other victims, etcetera. Third, there should be more effort and money put into community and neighbourhood awareness and prevention. This can help with catching the crime before it happens rather than just providing help after the fact.
    Sullivan also mentions that 80% of sexual abuse victims do not report to the police. I find it really sad that 80% of victims feel too ashamed or embarrassed to report this. Another thing Stephen Harper can do to help victims is help those who do not report the crimes. Put emphasis on the fact that it is not their fault, and encourage those victims to come forward. To know that 4 out of 5 victims stay silent because they may feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed and not do anything to change that, just kills me.
    If Stephen Harper REALLY wanted to put the needs of these victims first, he would pass a bill that would do more than just lengthen the sentence of offenders.

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