OTTAWA – The Conservative government unveiled its long-awaited victims’ rights bill on Thursday. Here are five things to take away from the legislation:
1. People could be compelled to testify in court against a spouse. The Canada Evidence Act currently gives spouses the right to refuse to testify, except in certain specific cases such as sexual assault or crimes against youngsters. The provision is based on the notion that a married couple is one person in the eyes of the law.
2. Victims would be able to find out much more about the offender. The bill would allow victims to ask for a copy of a bail order, details on an offender’s correctional plan, a probation order or the details of a conditional or work release. They would also be able to ask for a copy of a recent photograph of the offender.
3. Victims would have the right to have the courts consider making a restitution order in all cases and to have such orders registered as a civil court judgment against the offender if the money isn’t paid.
4. Victims would have the right to read an impact statement in or outside the court, or behind a screen. The court would also allow the victim or the person speaking on their behalf to carry a photograph of the victim taken before the crime, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the trial.
5. The court must inform victims, if they ask, of any plea agreements reached between the accused and the Crown. Only two provinces — Ontario and Manitoba — have laws governing the role of victims in the plea agreement process. Ontario provides victims with access to information about any pre-trial plea arrangements. Manitoba gives victims the right to ask for information about “the possibility of discussions between the Crown attorney and an accused person, or his or her legal counsel, on a resolution of the charge.”