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Ombudsman urges Conservatives to strengthen new bill of rights for victims

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OTTAWA - The federal ombudsman for crime victims wants the Harper government's proposed victims bill of rights strengthened.

Sue O'Sullivan says the present legislation, Bill C-32, is welcome, but a few well-chosen amendments before it becomes law would do more to help people affected by crime.

"The introduction of a victims bill of rights marks a significant cultural shift in Canada towards a system that recognizes the important role that victims have to play and that more fully considers and integrates victims into Canada's criminal justice system," O'Sullivan said.

"That being said, the bill fails to fully address the breadth and depth of victims' needs and concerns. As the bill moves through the parliamentary process, I will be pushing for further change to strengthen the bill and I encourage all Canadians to do the same."

Her office had presented a sheaf of suggestions for inclusion in the legislation.

"When you look at some of the recommendations, we had almost 30 recommendations and I would say just about half were met either in whole or partially, but we still have work to do."

For instance, the bill leaves it to victims to enforce restitution orders against wrongdoers.

O'Sullivan argued that restitution orders are part of a criminal's sentence and should be enforced by the authorities, not by victims going to civil court.

She also says victims should have a general right to attend parole hearings. Now, they must apply to sit in, just like any other member of the public.

Among other weaknesses pointed out by O'Sullivan:

— The bill provides for enhanced information-sharing, but does not outline the responsibilities for this in specific terms

— It does not address the fact that most victims don't know they need to register with the parole board or the Correctional Service of Canada in order to receive information about the offender who harmed them.

— The bill allows certain victims to be informed of a plea bargain, but it does not allow victims to have a say before a plea is accepted.

The legislation has yet to receive second reading in the House of Commons.

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