The criminal court process can be very difficult for crime victims, in part because they can be called to court to answer questions. The law gives victims certain rights to ensure they play a role in the process and to minimize the negative impact on them.
Taking Part in a Criminal Case
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime recognizes the rights of victims. The Statement was adopted by the Canadian and Quebec governments to promote victims' rights in laws, government policies and the criminal justice process.
In Quebec, a law called the Act respecting assistance for victims of crime protects victims during the criminal court process. According to the Act, victims must be
- treated with courtesy, fairness, understanding, and with respect for their dignity and privacy,
- allowed to express their points of view and concerns,
- informed of their role and participation in the criminal justice process, and
- informed of progress of the case on request.
The prosecutor is a lawyer representing the government in criminal cases. The prosecutor must make sure victims are involved in the process by explaining their role and updating them on the progress of the case.
Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVACs) also give assistance to crime victims based on the principles listed above.
The CAVAC-Info program sends information directly to crime victims identified in a court file, even if they have not asked for it. Victims receive information about the status of the criminal court case (the accused's appearance in court, the criminal charges, whether the accused will be released or kept in custody, etc.) and about services for victims.
Victims can contact a CAVAC on their own to find out about the progress of a court case and to learn about their rights. CAVACs offer free, confidential help.
The Victim: A Very Important Witness
In a criminal case, the prosecutor can ask the victim to testify to help prove the accused is guilty. "Testifying" means answering questions in court about the case. The victim receives some money to make up for any time spent in court.
There are measures that can protect victims against intimidation and revenge. For example, courthouses must provide special rooms for victims so they do not run into the person charged with the crime in the hallway.
There are also special measures to help victims testify. For example, a judge can allow a victim to testify behind a screen so she will not see the accused.
The law also provides measures for victims under the age of 18 and victims with a physical or mental disability.
The Sentence: the Victim's Point of View
If an accused is found guilty, the judge must decide on a punishment.
At this stage, the can express her point of view and concerns in a written statement. She can read the statement out loud in the courtroom. The statement usually describes the harm the victim suffered and how the crime affected her life (physical or psychological health, loss of property, etc.). The judge takes the statement into account when deciding the punishment.
Although victims have rights, they also have an important responsibility in the eyes of the law: to cooperate as much as possible with legal authorities to help the process smoothly.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.