Reforms Giving Victims a Greater Voice in our Justice System

On October 26, 2023, Bill S-12, received Royal Assent and became law. The aim of this legislation is to give victims a greater voice in our justice system and to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry.

The amendments focus on three elements:

  • to empower victims by improving the law on publication bans and victims’ right to information;
  • to strengthen the sex offender registration regime; and,
  • to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision in R. v. Ndhlovu to ensure the National Sex Offender Registry remains an effective law enforcement tool that is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Amendments to publication bans to respond to concerns of victims: 

  • require more direct conversations with victims about whether a publication ban should be imposed;
  • simplify and streamline the process for amending and revoking publication bans;
  • make clear that a person protected by a publication ban can share information about themselves in certain circumstances, including in private conversations and support groups; and,
  • clarify when a prosecution for a breach of a publication ban shall not occur

These amendments respond to the concerns of victims who have asked for their views to be taken into consideration when seeking publication bans, while at the same time ensuring that publication bans continue to be available to those who want them.

Amendments to victims’ right to information about their case

In response to concerns from victims and stakeholders about the difficulties victims can face when trying to access information through the criminal justice process. The law now:

  • requires judges to ensure that victims have been asked if they would like to receive ongoing information;
  • provides victims with an easy and quick way to indicate on their Victim Impact Statement whether they wish to receive ongoing information; and,
  • requires courts, with the consent of the victim, to share preferences and contact information with the Correctional Service of Canada so that victims receive information to which they are entitled.

Victims are entitled to receive ongoing information about the offender who harmed them. This information could include the length of the offender’s sentence and its start date, when an offender might be eligible for parole, release conditions, and appeals of release decisions

Amendments to the National Sex Offender Registry

These legislative amendments respond to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R.v Ndhlovu by making the following changes to the criteria for automatic registration on the National Sex Offender Registry:

Automatic registration for:

  • child sex offenders sentenced to two or more years in prison;
  • repeat sexual offenders; and,
  • any offender who has previously been ordered to register on the National Sex Offender Registry because of a conviction for a designated offence.

All other offenders are required to register, unless they can demonstrate that they pose no risk to the community.

Lifetime Orders:

  • judges are able to impose lifetime registration for sexual offenders who are found guilty of more than one offence at the same time, if the offender poses a risk of re-offending.

Other requirements:

  • registered sex offenders who intend to travel are required to provide 14 days advance notice prior to their travel departure; and,
  • registered sex offenders must report every address at which they will be staying during their travels.

Addition of new offences for which registration with the National Sex Offender Registry may be required:

The courts can now order registration in additional circumstances, including:

  • cases of non-consensual sharing of intimate images; and
  • cases of “sextortion” (where the Crown proves that extortion was committed with the intention of committing a sexual offence).

The legislation also ensures aggravated sexual assault against a person under 16 is now explicitly included in the list of offences for registration.