Prime Minister’s Harper’s recent announcement of legislation to give victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system has sparked renewed discussion about the role of victims in criminal justice. Since victims are not given a voice until after the criminal trial, their statements at public hearings usually pertain to the sentencing or parole of the defendant. Hence, the public may get the impression that victims seek only revenge and punishment. Dealing with trauma and losses few can imagine or understand, crime victims have varying needs and expectations, depending on their personal circumstances and nature of the crime. In their search for answers and accountability, victims may be re-traumatized by the criminal justice process itself.
Author Hazel Magnussen understands that defendants have a right to a fair trial, but has witnessed how the due process rights of the accused trump victims’ rights for truth and respect. Even when false and bizarre claims were made about Magnussen’s brother, the homicide victim, her family had no opportunity to refute these accusations in court. In her book, A Doctor’s Calling: A matter of conscience, Magnussen tells her brother’s story, documents her observations of the criminal trial and argues that, according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all persons, including crime victims, ought to have “equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.”
Magnussen is disappointed that the proposed Canadian Victims Bill of Rights does not include victims’ right to participate in the court process. Rather, it makes generalizations about victims’ rights for information, protection, participation and restitution, and proposes another layer of bureaucracy for victims’ complaints within a system that already views their concerns as cumbersome. Without transformation of the culture of the criminal justice system itself, the proposed bill is not likely to make any real difference for crime victims.
The e- book, A Doctor’s Calling: A matter of conscience, re-published by Promontory Press is now available. See links on www.promontorypress.com.