Federal watchdog says victims-rights regime needs overhaul after falling 'far short'

Federal watchdog for crime victims wants legal changes to allow victims of crime to be able to challenge authorities when they believe their right have been infringed by a crime perpetrator.

OTTAWA — Canada's watchdog for crime victims is calling on Parliament to overhaul the victims' bill of rights, saying the five-year-old legislation has fallen "far short" of delivering on its promise.

Federal ombudsman Heidi Illingworth says in a report that rules meant to amplify victims' voices in the justice system have failed to make them heard following "sporadic" implementation of a regime that needs more teeth, clarity and public awareness.

The previous Conservative government introduced what it called a victims' bill of rights in 2015 that allowed victims of crime to get information about offenders in the corrections system and have their views considered when decisions are made about those offenders.

Illingworth says the legislation should be amended to provide a legal remedy for violations, such as allowing victims to formally challenge authorities on whether their legal rights have been honoured.

Other "major changes" demanded in the report include a simplified complaint process, more clearly defined obligations for criminal justice officials and beefed-up funding for training for front-line workers in dealing with victims.

The ombudsman is also calling for better data collection by courts, prisons and police agencies to understand interactions with targeted populations, including Indigenous women and LGBTQ persons.

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