Canada has appointed a new Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime with the hope of helping crime victims recover from trauma, according to an opinion piece published in The Conversation.
Some 2.6 million people over the age of 15 experienced violence in the form of sexual assault, and/or physical assault and robbery during the period studied in a 2019 criminal victimization survey from Statistics Canada. Only about 25% of the victims reported the incidents to the police according to the survey.
The Canadian government adopted a Victims Bill of Rights Act in 2015 to provide victims the right to information, protection, participation and restitution.
But a 2020 progress report from the ombudsman found that implementation of these new services was sporadic and inconsistent due to lack of strategic planning, limited training opportunities for officials, poor data collection measures, a lack of funding, and almost no outreach to the public. The victim’s rights are not enforceable by law, the article said.
“Most of these victims of violent crime had little or no confidence that the police would take them seriously and expected to be re-traumatized by the legal process,” writes Ph.D. candidate Jeffrey Bradley of Carleton University in his Nov. 22, 2022 opinion piece. Bradley goes on to lay out an alternative approach to violent crime in Canada.
Violent crimes disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous people, young women, disabled people and sexual minorities, according to Bradley’s article. Governmental resources are often focused on punishing the perpetrators, Bradley writes, while these marginalized groups experience re-victimization as the justice system ignores their need for support.
The author argues that this practice of retributive justice ignores the complex racial, economic, and social inequities that contribute to violent crime, counterproductively directing resources to mass incarceration and over-policing of the communities often victimized by crimes in the first place. Bradley argues that this system punishes the communities most impacted by crime, instead of providing support to correct the conditions that produce crime.
Bradley writes that the alternative to the flawed system of retributive justice is restorative justice, which concentrates resources on repairing the damage done by crime through forms of restitution and or reparations.
Restorative justice achieves individual, cultural, and societal change through dialogue between victims and perpetrators of crime in an effort to reconcile and correct the actual causes of the harm done, the author reports.
In a restorative justice process, community support systems aid in the prevention of future harm by allowing victims to be heard in a meaningful way, while also holding the persons responsible for causing the harm accountable to making amends and changing their behavior.
In his piece, Bradley argues that the criminal justice system has enough money to ensure an appropriate level of attention to the needs of victims.
“[Restorative justice] offers a more human-centered system that actively provides victims with dignity, respect and the fairness required to support their healing which the words of the government fail to provide,” Bradley concluded.