Use of Victim Impact Statements at Sentencing and Parole
A victim impact statement (VIS) is a written statement that describes the harm or loss suffered by the victim of an offence. The court considers the statement when the offender is sentenced, and the Parole Board of Canada considers VIS at parole. Since amendments to the Criminal Code in 1999, victims have been able to read their statement to the court. At parole, the victim can rely on the victim impact statement from sentencing and/or provide another statement to the parole board. The victim impact statement is intended to give victims a voice in the criminal justice system; it allows victims to participate in the sentencing of the offender by explaining to the court and the offender, in their own words, how the crime has affected them.
Currently, data is not systematically collected on how often and how (e.g., written, oral) VIS are submitted at sentencing and at parole.
Findings from studies involving surveys of judges conducted in Ontario in 2001 and in Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia in 2006 indicate that:
- Most judges perceive victim impact statements to contain information that is, in general, useful as well as relevant to sentencing.
- Victim impact statements (VIS) are submitted in only a small percentage of cases; an average 11% of cases have VIS.
- Many judges report an increase in the number of VIS submitted since the 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code, but not in the number of victims wishing to make an oral presentation of their VIS.
- Only rarely do victims elect to make an oral presentation of the impact statement.
- Approximately two fifths (42%) of judges find it difficult to know whether the victim has been apprised of their right to submit a VIS.
- 97% of judges in Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia and 84% in Ontario report that victims are seldom cross-examined on the contents of their victim impact statements.
- If the victim is present at sentencing judges will often (28% of respondents) or sometimes (35% of respondents) address him or her directly (2006 study only).
- Only one quarter (25%) of the judges who responded believed that most, almost all or all victims understand the role of the VIS at sentencing (2006 study only).
In other research, focus groups with victims of crime across Canada found that victims
- Were provided with clear information about the VIS;
- Were given sufficient time and any help needed to complete their statements;
- Expressed few, if any, concerns about the privacy aspects of completing a VIS;
- Reported that their statements were rarely modified by anyone else, once submitted;
- Accepted the need for their statements to be provided to defence counsel and, by extension, to the accused;
- Supported victims being offered the opportunity to present their statements orally; and,
- Praised the provincial victim services they dealt with in preparing their statements.
In July 2001, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) introduced measures in policy to allow victims to read prepared victim statements at its hearings.
- The Board had 20,000 contacts with victims;
- There were 1.904 observers at PBC hearings, which is a 62% increase over the last five years; and
- Victims made 192 presentation of VIS at 112 hearings. Families of murder victims and victims of sexual offences are the most frequent presenters.
- Meredith, Colin and Chantal Paquette, ARC Applied Research Consultants, Summary Report on Victim Impact Statement Focus Groups, Department of Justice Canada: Ottawa, 2001.
- Parole Board of Canada
- Roberts, Julian V. and Edgar, Allen, Victim Impact Statements at Sentencing: Perceptions of the Judiciary -- Findings from a survey of Ontario Judges, Department of Justice Canada: Ottawa, 2001.
- Roberts, Julian V. and Edgar, Allen, Victim Impact Statements at Sentencing: Judicial Experiences and Perceptions -- A Survey of Three Jurisdictions, Department of Justice Canada: Ottawa, 2006.
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