STELLARTON – The front line workers of the justice system came to a roundtable discussion with opinions in hand Friday.
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Justice Minister Peter MacKay
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay sat down with police, lawyers and victim advocacy groups to discuss some of the problems in the current system with the primary focus on victim’s rights.
“All too often, you have heard it, so have I, that some victims come out the other end of our justice system at the end of the day and felt re-victimized,” said MacKay before the discussion began. “There is a reflection of a sound sense of disappointment and frustration they have not been able to feel they have been accurately and adequately consulted.”
He acknowledged that this isn’t the fault of any particular working group within the justice system and that there have been changes made to improve the process for victims.
The inclusion of victim services, victim impact statements and props such as screens that can used when witnesses testify in court have helped, however, more changes need to take place so the victim never feels left as if they are just another witness in the process.
“In the near future, we will introduce a victim’s bill of rights,” he said. “The intention is to bolster and protect the victim within our justice system to provide a greater access to information, to protection and to meaningful participation in our justice system.”
MacKay said he recently visited 16 provinces and territories to hold similar roundtable discussions and one of the common concerns he heard from participants is that delays in the justice system provide unsatisfactory results for the victims.
“What we hope to see is a minimum standard across the country that will see victims receive timely information and that they are respected and included and given options and meaningful consultation,” he said.
This includes giving information all the way through the process, including at the end. He said many victims have told him stories of how they didn’t realize their perpetrator was going to be granted an early release and they came across them in the community.
“You can imagine the trauma and re-victimization for a person encountering their perpetrator in the local grocery store,” he said.
He said particular emphasis has to be placed on protecting children and one of the more advanced additions to the justice system is the establishment of child advocacy centres.
“You victims in particular face a very real challenge,” he said. “It is a very daunting, overwhelming and intimidating system for youths in particular when they enter into the process,” he said. “They come to it the very first time and are not sure what they will encounter.”
He said there are 20 child advocacy centres across the country and they allow police, Crown and defence council to work together to ensure that everyone is sharing information.
MacKay said it is very common for the victim to not get information they need because the police thought the Crown was relaying the information or that victim services were handling a certain situation.
Child advocacy centres will bridge this gap and ensure that the child is as comfortable and informed as can be within the system.
MacKay said the territories also have a unique system that has a Crown-witness co-ordinator in place who is dedicated to work with the police, Crown and victim services to see that all information is being properly circulated.
“It’s something as simple as that,” he said. “It’s the lack of co-ordinated information sharing that creates the biggest effects,” he said.
MacKay said any new changes to the justice system are not meant to slow it down, but he knows there will be challenges and some resistance to any change.
However, its better to live by the motto to not only have justice done, but feel that justice is done.