Federal justice minister meets with crime victims’ advocates in Iqaluit
Peter MacKay listens to Nunavut priorities for a victims bill of rights
Canada’s justice minister, Peter MacKay, visited Iqaluit Sept. 17 with a specific goal: to get a Nunavummiut perspective for the government’s planned victims bill of rights.
To that end, MacKay met with a group of victims’ advocates in a closed session Sept. 17, as part of a nationwide fact-finding mission for the bill, whose purpose is to protect the rights of crime victims as their cases work through the justice system.
The meeting is one of 15 MacKay has scheduled across the country since July, with the aim of creating a system “that is more and more inclusive and respectful of victims to give them a more effective voice in the Canadian justice system,” he said before the closed session was to start.
The government will introduce the bill in Parliament this fall.
Usually through no choice of their own, victims of crime are swept up in legal processes they do not understand, MacKay said.
At the start of the whole process, many victims already feel overwhelmed and traumatized by the crime they endured, “and so the need for inclusion, for information is very important,” he said.
Nunavut and the North overall has “specific challenges” that the government will have to consider, he said.
These include vast distances between communities, which complicate organization and timing of trials. Trial delays, caused by staffing shortages as well as great distances, are also a big issue, he admitted.
“Evidence is sometimes not properly preserved, [so] there’s continuity issues that pertain to evidence in a courtroom,” MacKay said.
Yet MacKay said he could draw some similarities between the North and small towns where victims can easily come face to face with their offenders — which signals a greater need for collaboration with the court system.
“Victims want to know in some cases how the offender is doing, when they’re going to be released, what programs has the offender availed themselves of, what are the chances that they’re going to run into this person again,” he said. “There’s a very good chance you’re going to run into that person, upon [their] release.”
MacKay said the current government has put $120 million into victim services programs across the country since 2006 through the Department of Justice, some of them tailored for programs in the provinces.
On the other hand he cautioned that “we’re living in a time of fiscal restraint as well, when there are budget restrictions everywhere.”
“It’s a very fragile global, let alone national economy,” he said. “So we’re working for efficiencies as well.”