Omnibus crime bill ignores the true victims
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.
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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