Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Critics Brand Harper Government's Victims Bill of Rights as Political Cynicism

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Critics Brand Harper Government's Victims Bill of Rights as Political Cynicism

Article excerpt

Tories' new victims bill of rights 'cynicism'

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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Crime victims would have more say as their cases wind their way through the justice system under a new Conservative government bill that veteran lawyers immediately denounced as crass politics.

The long-awaited legislation, part of the government's ongoing law-and-order theme, aims to fix what Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday was a broken part of the system.

"The rights of criminals have received far more attention than the rights of their victims," Harper said at a seniors' centre.

"Justice is not only for the accused; it is also for the victims."

The proposed law -- similar to one passed in Ontario almost 20 years ago -- would ensure victims are given information about cases in which they are involved, such as a copy of a bail or probation order, or details of a criminal's parole.

Other measures would mandate judges to take into account the safety of victims during bail proceedings, and the harm an accused has caused during sentencing.

Several defence lawyers branded the legislation as a calculated political ploy that victims of crime had fallen for.

"The (bill) is an example of a community that has sold itself to the Conservatives for a mess of porridge," said Clayton Ruby.

"They need rehabilitative programs and services, and compensation from the government, and they've dropped all those expensive demands in favour of shallow symbolism."

Other measures include a standardized victim-impact form that could also be used by review boards deciding what should happen to someone found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.

Another section would give victims the right to ask a court to consider ordering restitution for offences where financial losses are easy to calculate.

Frank Addario, another Toronto-based criminal lawyer, said the Conservative government's agenda is to position itself as tough on crime, even though it knows its measures have little real-world effect.

"It's cynicism masquerading as policy," Addario said. …

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