Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 25, 2016 - 8:30 am

We’ll get rid of mandatory victim surcharges for those who can’t pay: Ottawa

Proposed amendment would give judges discretion to waive fee

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
The Trudeau government wants to return judges the power to waive federal victim surcharges in cases where offenders do not have the means to pay.(FILE PHOTO)
The Trudeau government wants to return judges the power to waive federal victim surcharges in cases where offenders do not have the means to pay.(FILE PHOTO)

In the Nunavut court system, convicted offenders have to pay victim surcharges as part of their sentences—generally $100 or more.

But the Trudeau government wants to give back to judges the power to waive those federal victim surcharges in cases where offenders do not have the means to pay.

That’s often the case in Nunavut where people who end up in the judicial system are unemployed or have casual employment only.

The provision calling for victim surcharges in the Criminal Code has been around since 1989, but was amended in 2013 by the former Conservative government in its tough-on-crime Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act, to require all offenders to pay, regardless of their ability.

And judges lost the discretion to waive the victim surcharge for offenders who are truly unable to pay.

“As a result, the surcharge is currently imposed on all offenders, for all offences, regardless of their true capacity to pay or individual circumstances,” an Oct. 21 release from the federal justice department said.

The victim surcharge is imposed on offenders at the time they’re sentenced: $200 for an indictable offence, $100 for a non-indictable offence, or 30 per cent of a fine imposed by a judge.

But the penalty has been criticized, especially in regions and territories such as Nunavut with widespread poverty—and often the convicted person’s family members are stuck paying the fine.

Nunavut Justice Sue Cooper ruled earlier this year that an offender could pay just one victim surcharge to cover four criminal convictions.

The Liberal government says it’s committed to ensuring the criminal justice system is equitable and fair.

“These changes directly address the many Charter challenges the victim surcharge has faced because of the way it affects the most marginalized people,” said federal justice minister Jody Raybould-Wilson in the government release.

“With these changes, the surcharge would continue to help support victim services and help hold offenders accountable to victims of crime in a way that takes into consideration the individual circumstances of offenders and that is in keeping with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Money from the victim surcharge is used by provinces and territories to help fund programs and services directed to victims of crime where the offence took place.

The proposed amendments would eliminate the administrative costs involved in collecting money from people who don’t have the means to pay.

Ottawa said it would work with provinces and territories to address the potential loss of money that might result from the changes.

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