The Canadian justice system has changed a lot over the last century. We saw a shift from a penal model to a welfare model, which is traditionally under Liberal governments and focuses on rehabilitation instead of punishment, back towards a penal model of justice under the Harper government. Last week, the Harper Government proposed a Bill of Victims’ Rights. It’s eerily similar to one that was passed in Ontario almost 20 years ago. Essentially, victims would be given information about cases in which they are involved in.
Although it appears the Harper Government is trying to benefit victims, it’s not the case and will hurt our justice system in the long haul. Throughout the history of Canadian corrections, criminals’ rights have received a much larger amount of attention than the rights of the victims. The bill would seem at the onset as a strong step for victim’s rights to dealing with the problem of focusing on the offender versus the victim.
With something like this proposed piece of legislation, it’s clear there’s a politicized nature to it. With an election only one year away, this was no doubt an attempt by the Harper government to shift focus from their penal model of a justice system. Over the last few years, the shift has been quite evident. Such things like mandatory minimum sentencing, and with this bill the proposed elimination of spousal privilege, the justice system in Canada is shifting towards that of a privatized prison state.
The elimination of spousal privilege in the testimonial process would represent a huge shift towards this. Where the bill seems to fall flat is the lack of emphasis on services and rehabilitation programs. It has been proven that mandatory minimum sentences do not deter people from reoffending. For a government that has been so adamant about reducing government (understandable given that conservatism is generally based on principles of smaller government), it falls far from this objective.
The proposed bill will not only create a new array of problems but further establish a bureaucracy that will more than likely bog down an already slow criminal justice system. Like anything else the Harper government has passed in relation to the criminal justice system since 2006, the proposed Bill of Victims’ Rights will seem like a strong move to reforming the system, but in fact, it will continue to regress it to a penal model. Something such as this will undoubtedly set the justice system back further with unneeded bureaucracy.
Worst of all, however, is that victims are ultimately taking a backseat once again to shallow systemic change.
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