Victims rights bill needs teeth: MLI commentary

Ben Perrin

Senior Fellow Benjamin Perrin says the government needs to give victims enforceable rights to avoid suffering the fate of previous failed victims’ rights laws.

OTTAWA, June 19 – Legal expert Benjamin Perrin, in a new commentary for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, is warning the federal government to adjust its proposed victims rights bill or risk producing a piece of legislation that is ineffective at protecting those harmed by crime.

Perrin, a Senior Fellow with MLI and law professor at the University of British Columbia, applauds the government for introducing the Victims Bill of Rights Act (Bill C-32) but cautions that without giving victims the ability to enforce these new rights, the bill’s goals will be neutralized and it will replicate the failure of previous ill-fated attempts at protecting victims.

“Denying victims any ability to actually rely on these rights in a courtroom risks the creation of ‘rights’ without remedies – something that has undermined previous victims’ rights legislation in our country already”, writes Perrin in the new commentary, titled “More Than Words: Enhancing the Proposed Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (C-32)”.

The main problem with the bill, says Perrin, is that it denies victims the ability to petition a court when they feel the rights granted to them aren’t being respected. Without this remedy, the bill will cripple whatever solutions it purports to grant to victims.

Perrin’s commentary makes several recommendations to the federal government:

  • Allow victims to pursue remedies in the courts. This is the only way, Perrin says, to create a victims rights regime with teeth.
  • Grant the bill’s rights to organizations as well. As it stands now, the bill defines a victim as “an individual”, which means that it only applies to human beings. Altering the wording to “a person” would also lend rights to legal persons – charities, corporations, organizations, institutions and public agencies – when they are victimized by crimes such as fraud.
  • Authorize lawyers to act on a victim’s behalf. Perrin recommends the bill explicitly allow victims to hire a lawyer or law student to represent them in ensuring their rights are respected.

Perrin says that Canadians don’t need to look far for what happens to poorly designed attempts at protecting the rights of victims. The lack of remedy in Ontario’s Victims Bill of Rights introduced nearly two decades ago, for instance, led a judge in that province to conclude that “it does not establish any statutory rights for the victims of crime”.

Only by tweaking the bill will the federal government achieve its goal of lending rights to victims.

“After a long history of being largely unseen and unheard, victims need to have a real voice in our justice system”, Perrin writes.

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Benjamin Perrin is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a victims rights advocate and a lawyer who has done extensive research on human trafficking. He is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and served as special adviser, legal affairs and policy in the Office of the Prime Minister in 2012-13.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

For more information, please contact Mark Brownlee, communications manager, at 613-482-8327 x. 105 or email at On Twitter @MLInstitute