Victims and Survivors of Crime Week

May 14 – 20, 2023 is Victims and Survivors of Crime Week across Canada. This week recognizes issues facing victims and survivors of crime and the services and laws that are in place to help victims, survivors and their families. The week also acknowledges the dedicated service providers who assist victims and survivors of crime and their families.

On behalf of the PVSBC Board of Directors and staff, I wish to express our sincere thanks to each of you for your dedication to victims and survivors of crime and trauma across BC. In the face of the challenges caused by both the impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing opioid public health emergencies, along with increasingly complex files, police-based victim services workers continue to provide victims and survivors of crime and traumatic incidents with compassionate, professional, and consistent services.

In 2022, approximately 275 police-based victim services professionals throughout BC assisted over 50,000 victims and survivors of crime and traumatic incidents through the 43,000 new incident files opened during the year, in addition to ongoing client files.

It is difficult to assume that “justice” for victims of crime simply means justice in the courtroom – a guilty verdict for the offender and sentencing reflective of the seriousness of their crime. But for those who have experienced direct harm as a result of crime, abstract legal notions often give way to personal beliefs and feelings about whether “justice” even exists.

The BC Victims of Crime Act (1996) and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (2015) were significant developments for victims of crime in British Columbia to increase their involvement in the criminal legal system. Principle to both these pieces of legislation is the fundamental right to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect by all workers within the criminal legal system. These two pieces of legislation work together to create standardized rights for victims of crime, mainly, the Right to Information, Protections, Participation, to Seek Restitution, and to File a Complaint if one feels their rights have been violated.

But, even considering the strides that have been made to advance victims’ rights and provide victims with a greater voice within the criminal legal system, the criminal legal system falls short for victims and survivors where there is no satisfaction or sense of “justice.”

Justice means something different to each victim. Criminal convictions are important to many victims, but equally, if not more important, is that of being treated with compassion and respect, regardless of the case’s outcome. Justice to many victims and survivors means being listened to, having their needs and wishes prioritized, and being able to access the supports and resources they need to help them heal.

In December 2022, the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee (the Committee) on Justice and Human Rights “Improving Support for Victims of Crime” was released. Between June 2021 and October 2022, the Committee held a number of meetings to hear evidence from a wide variety of witnesses to address the status of victim’s rights in Canada and “the shortcomings of current legislative and policy measures available to victims of crime”.

The report includes a total of 13 recommendations, a number of these recommendations align with the strategic direction of PVSBC including:

  • Recommendation 1: That the Department of Justice establish a national working group with federal and provincial government officials, representatives from community organizations that work with victims, and victims’ representatives to agree on national best practices and minimum standards for victims of crime, particularly as regards the level of support and the services available to victims.
  • Recommendation 2: That the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights be amended to establish a right to access victim assistance and support.
  • Recommendation 3: That the Minister of Justice work with their provincial and territorial counterparts as well as victims and community organizations to agree on minimum standards for supports to be provided to victims of crime across Canada, including mental health supports, and that increased funding be provided to the provinces and territories to support victims’ access to these supports.
  • Recommendation 4: That sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights be amended to clarify that the information to which victims of crime are entitled should be provided automatically rather than on request, and that the government of Canada work alongside the provinces and territories, as well as with victims and community organizations, to determine the best ways to uphold the right to information outlined in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
  • Recommendation 5: That the Department of Justice lead a national effort to develop responsibility training on victims’ rights for criminal justice personnel across Canada to ensure national standards for the treatment of victims, and so all personnel fully understand that they will be held accountable for ensuring that victims have access to the rights stated in the law. The training must be evaluated on an ongoing basis to determine its effectiveness.
  • Recommendation 6: That the Department of Justice lead a national public education campaign including television and social media to inform Canadians of their rights as victims of crime. The campaign should target victims’ right to information, as this right opens the gate to other rights. Such a campaign would empower victims and enhance their trust in the criminal justice system.
  • Recommendation 7: That the Minister of Justice consult their provincial and territorial counterparts, the various criminal justice system stakeholders, community organizations that work with victims, and victims in order to determine the best way to support victims’ participation in the justice system.

These recommendations in addition with the understanding that services need to be adaptive to the diverse victims’ needs is crucial in progressing victims’ rights and access to services.

Ensuring frontline victim support services are sufficiently resourced is integral to ensuring victims and survivors of crime and traumatic incidents have access the supports and rights they are entitled to. PVSBC strives to raise awareness of the unique challenges faced by police-based victim services professionals, and advocating for resolutions to the issues that interfere with providing quality compassionate, professional, and consistent support to victims of crime and trauma across BC.

We hope you are able to take some time to take in the many Victims and Survivors Week activities taking place in communities across the province.

Warm regards, take care, and be safe,

Ian P. Batey
Executive Director, PVSBC