At Battered Women’s Support Services we provide crisis support, counselling and legal advocacy to women survivors of sexual violence and/or violence in intimate relationships. Through our work and the work of other victim service providers across Canada, we know domestic and sexual violence are often not reported to law enforcement. How relevant would a Victims’ Bill of Rights be for victims of gender violence?

Our Executive Director Angela Marie MacDougall was live on Bill Good Show to discuss Victims’ Bill of Rights with Bill Good and Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society.

Download and listen the postcast here. The following is a rush transcription of the interview:

Bill: According to Justice Minister Peter McKay, entrenching victims’ rights in legislation will help those affected by crime get on with their lives. The Minister said the Rights Bill expected to be tabled in the fall, will give victims some comfort and a louder voice in the justice system by putting those rights into laws. But some argue that the bill could prove counter-productive in the administration of justice if more cases are thrown out of court due to delays. Also, some victims of crime think that the bill is just window dressing. So who would the Victims’ Bill of Rights really benefit? Catherine Latimer is Executive Director of the John Howard Society, Angel Marie MacDougall is Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver and I welcome both to the program. Catherine Latimer, let me start with you. Where do you stand on the Victims’ Bill of Rights?

Catherine: Well, it’s hard to have a definite position until you actually see what’s in the bill. But it could be a very good thing for victims if it contains some significant components. We would like to see, the John Howard Society would like to see, for example, resources being allocated for victim services to deal with their trauma and loss. We’d also like to have a clear inclusive definition of who is a “victim”. What we find now is that some will meet a legal definition of “victim” but will not be eligible for compensation or programming support. Another thing that would be useful is that if there was a component that deals with victim-prevention and this would include not only crime-prevention but programs to prevent those who have harmed victims before from re-offending. And fourthly it really needs to have a definition of the appropriate role of victims in the criminal justice system and that’s the one thing that I think is most troubling and could lead to some of the problems by having unintended consequences for overloading the courts and compromising fundamental principles of justice.

Bill: I was interested in your suggestion that there could be prevention of victims and I thought, to Angela Marie MacDougall, that might speak to your issues. Again, Angela Marie MacDougall is Executive Director to Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver. Good morning, and am I right?

Angela: Well, you know, Bill, today when we look at this proposal, it rings hollow in so many ways and in part because for us at Battered Women’s Support Services, we see that the term “rights” is frequently employed by politicians and even within the media to talk about a way of different expectations and entitlements that victims should expect from the justice system and what we see through our work is, you know, we’re talking about some of the most horrific violent crimes- sexual violence, violence in intimate relationships- where only 10% of it is actually reported to law enforcement and less than 30% makes it through to criminal proceedings and less than 11% actually results in a conviction. So, what are we talking about actually when we’re talking about entrenching a Bill of Rights? We need to examine the entire way that our society’s looking at the issue of violence against women and it rings hollow for other reasons, particularly when we’re talking about violence against women and violence against Indigenous women where we’ve had horrific levels of violence historically and today the same justice department has dismissed the premier’s call for an inquiry into the investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous women. So it’s ringing hollow on lots of levels and we, of course, want all victims and in this case women survivors of sexual violence and violence in relationships to receive better treatment in the system and I’m not sure how much of this is an attempt to window dress the Conservative’s approach to their law and order agenda where they want to fill their prisons.

Premiers back national Inquiry

Bill: Talking with Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society and Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver and both sound very skeptical when it comes to the federal government’s proposed Victims’ Rights Bill or Bill of Rights and Angela, you said something right before the break that caught my interest, you’re concerned that the federal government is dismissing the premier’s call for a public inquiry into missing women and I saw that last night and I understand your concern on one level. On the other hand, we’ve just spent millions of dollars on an inquiry here, and I’m not sure what was achieved and what would be achieved by a further inquiry as opposed to just taking millions of dollars and putting it toward more intense investigation into the missing women.

Angela: Well, you know, Bill, I can’t disagree with you. It has been actually quite unfortunate the ways in which the province of British Columbia addressed the missing women commission of inquiry, and I think they excluded the family members, they excluded women from the Downtown Eastside community in the process. They had it focused specifically on law enforcement and law enforcement then lawyer’d up all the way around, spent lots of money on lawyers to protect their interests. And the victims, the family members were rendered invisible in that process and then now with the recommendations there’s been no resources allocated in order to implement any of them. Steven Point, who was put in charge to kind of move this forward is no longer in that role. So, I don’t think that the issue of the inquiry is necessarily the problem, I think it’s the lack of political will that we’re seeing across the board here because we’re talking very much about some deep-rooted issues in terms of how we deal with Indigenous people, how we deal with issues of violence against women here in Canada and though I do agree that we want to spend in a good way, the inquiry hopefully would provide an opportunity to show where money needs to be spent. Right now, no money is flowing into any resource for women in terms of missing and murdered women and the federal government has failed miserably in this and it’s increasingly disturbing now to see the Conservative government dismiss the calls from the premiers. We’re talking about victims here today in terms of a Bill of Rights and one of the things that matters so much is that victims are treated with respect. In the case of missing and murdered women across Canada, we’re talking about family members and the family members have not, across the board, received respect not in terms of the law enforcement, all of the jurisdictional issues between municipal and RCMP in term of investigations. The issues that we have had here in Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside, they exist in Edmonton, they exist in Calgary, they exist in Saskatoon and Regina,  they exist in Winnipeg and the national inquiry could be an opportunity to highlight that and could help leverage change. But you’re right, Bill, what we’re not seeing is political will.

Bill: And, Catherine Latimer, that is your concern too?

Catherine: I agree with Angela Marie on a number of points and one is if you don’t have a clear definition of who is a victim, for example, if this Bill of Rights is only looking at victims after a criminal charge has been laid, and you’re already in the judicial process, a great number of people who are victims will not be eligible for services through that definition. So, I think it’s very important to have a good, clear definition and that it is backed up by some concrete program delivery. So, a Bill of Rights is supposed to be a guarantee against the state for people who qualify, ie- who are appropriately defined as “victims”. So they should have access to programs and resources that are being provided by the state regardless of any number of small dividing points about where this happens to take place in the criminal justice system.

Bill: Is either one of you concerned about the proposed Victims’ Bill of Rights simply clogging an already clogged court system even more?

Catherine: Yes. Certainly, some of the proposals I understand might be included in this Bill of Rights is a right to appear, a right to information. If you have a right to appear at every decision point in the process, so if you have that, you’re going to really delay an already crowded system and if you happen to have a big case like the Lac-Megantic case, I mean, if they found out there was some criminal negligence associated with that, how in the world would you have every victim being able to appear and participate in the decision if that went in a criminal direction? And I would imagine, this is particularly relevant in British Columbia where you’re doing such good work and have taken serious notice of inefficiencies in your criminal justice system and trying to speed things along.

Bill: Final thought from Angela Marie as we’re getting up with less than a minute left.

Angela: Well, you know, the thing that I think matters from out point of view is that we’re talking about violent crime and we’re talking about gendered-violent crime, violence that is of a gendered nature. And so, violence in intimate relationships and sexual violence are again some of the most under-reported crimes in terms of law enforcement. So, you know, the Victims’ Bill of Rights, as Catherine has said, would not apply here because we’re not necessarily defining victims who don’t engage in the criminal system. And so, victim services are what matter, the work that people are doing in communities, supporting victims outside of the criminal legal system is what matters very much and we certainly need more of that.

Bill: I have to break for the news. My thanks to both of you for shedding more light on the concerns about this issue. The news is next.

For more information:

Victims Rights: Enhancing Criminal Law Responses to Better Meet the Needs of Victims of Crime in Canada

Peter MacKay: Victims’ Bill Of Rights Needed To Protect Rights

Conservatives dismiss call for missing women inquiry