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Friday, May 14, 1999Victims Bill of Rights toothless, judge rules
Women's case dismissed
Despite its title and stated purpose of protecting the rights of victims of crime, Ontario's Victims Bill of Rights was deliberately designed to be a toothless policy document that is unenforceable in a court of law, a judge ruled yesterday.
"I conclude that the Legislature did not intend for the Victims Bill of Rights to provide rights to the victims of crime," wrote Justice Gerald Day of the Ontario Court, general division. The judge dismissed the case of two victims of violent crime who claimed their rights under the 1995 statute had been violated when Crown attorneys neglected to give them important information relating to their cases.
"The act is a statement of principle and social policy, beguilingly clothed in the language of legislation," he wrote. "It does not establish any statutory rights for the victims of crime."
The Victims Bill of Rights states that, in addition to being "treated with courtesy, compassion and respect," victims of crime "should have access to information" about 13 different areas relating to the justice system, including investigations, charges, dates, and place of significant proceedings and appeals.
"This decision only confirms that this Bill of Rights has no meaning for me or for other victims of crime," Karen Vanscoy, one of the crime victims who had launched the case against the Ontario government, said yesterday.
Ms. Vanscoy, whose young daughter had been shot and killed in 1996, and Linda Even, who was permanently crippled in a stabbing attack, had asked the court to strike down the section of the statute that prevents them from suing Crown attorneys.
Both women claim the Crown attorneys who prosecuted their cases did not inform them of key information relating to their cases, such as court dates and plea bargain arrangements. They said despite outlining rights, the statute did not create any avenue for filing a formal complaint if those rights were violated.
"The reality is that we are no better off than had this legislation never been passed," said Ms. Vanscoy yesterday. "In fact we are worse off because this legislation sets up an expectation that we are protected from being re-victimized by the criminal justice system, when the reality is that we are not," she said. "It's almost like another whack in the face."
The Bill of Rights was a part of the Ontario Conservative party's anti-crime election platform. In his 1995 Throne Speech, Mike Harris, the Ontario Premier, said the statute would turn "the justice system's focus away from concern only for the criminal."
Yesterday's ruling undermines that claim right in time for Mr. Harris' re-election campaign, Alan Young, Osgoode Hall law professor who argued the case, said yesterday.
"This government is going to promote itself as having taken enormous steps to improving the plight of victims, but this case demonstrates that the government was more interested in appearing sympathetic than creating protective rights for victims," he said.
Although all provinces in Canada have similar victims' rights statutes, only Manitoba has a formal complaint process for victims.
"This decision means that with the exception of Manitoba, which has recently enacted a complaints procedure, victims of crime in every other province remain vulnerable," said Mr. Young.
The Bill of Rights contains a section preventing new lawsuits from arising from these "rights." Mr. Young had argued that the law had therefore created a "right without a remedy."
But the judge found that the legislation had not created a right in the first place.
"The applicants' submission that their statutory rights have been violated fails simply on the basis that there are no rights provided in the Victims Bill of Rights to be violated," ruled Judge Day.
"To put it simply, there are no rights to be breached, so no remedy is required," he added.
(Each link opens a new window)
Victims' Bill of Rights, 1995, Statutes of Ontario
The controversial statute.
The grassroots organization Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating Its Termination.
Government of Ontario Victims Office
Contact numbers for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Victim/Witness Assistance Programme.
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