Victims of Violence is pleased and proud that the historic Victims Bill of Rights has now come into force. We consider the VBR to be a fair and responsible representation of where we are at currently in Canada in relation to being more responsive to victims of crime and their vast array of needs, concerns and issues.
“Whereas victims of crime and their families deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect, including respect for their dignity”
We are especially pleased with the addition of “respect for their dignity” in the above Preamble, which originally stated, “whereas victims of crime and their families deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect”.
The following is an excerpt from Sharon Rosenfeldt’s submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Bill C-32:
[The wording in the Preamble] These are not just nice, hollow words as they have true long term impact on the direct victim and/or the victim’s family if their loved one has been murdered. When Canada first adopted the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles for Justice for Victims of Crime, the Declaration stated that “Victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity”. I identified with those words so much because it explained to me that the ‘lack of personal respect for my dignity’ as to the way we were treated by the various components in the justice system had been severely injured and in particular the lack of respect for my dead son’s dignity in the manner in which his case was handled. He could no longer speak for himself so I took on his ‘lack of respect for his dignity’ and combined it with mine. That is why when we buried him, I felt burning shame and I could not hold my head up and I promised him that I would not return to his grave until I could stand before him with my head up and with dignity.
It took 16 years to return to his grave. Throughout those years there were many more victims and victim advocates speaking out and governments were beginning to listen as to what we were trying to explain as it relates to those words. Those feelings of “lack of respect for their dignity” has been coined the “second injury” and/or “re-victimization” when victims are dealing with the criminal justice system.
However, what was most significant was at Clifford Olson’s Faint Hope Clause hearing in Vancouver, the RCMP invited all the families into a room at the courthouse and they made a formal apology to all of us for the manner in which we had all been treated. They informed us that throughout the years, positive changes had been made in the manner in which they dealt with crime victims and missing persons etc. On our way home to Ottawa, we stopped in Saskatoon where our son is buried and we went to Daryn’s grave with our head held high and a sense of “respect for my dignity” and “respect for my son’s dignity” had begun to return.
So, somewhere between 1988 and 2004, the word “dignity” has been taken out and shortened to just simply treating victims with “respect”. It seems to be more on federal documents and websites as some provinces still maintain the words ‘respect for their dignity’. We would like to see the federal Canadian Bill of Rights changed back to the original intent of the wording in the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles. I know that is victim talk but the words “respect for their dignity” indicates strength and has significant meaning to victims of crime.