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Policy Centre for Victim Issues: A Crime Victim's Guide to the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
32 pages
This guide offers general information to assist victims of crimes in understanding the Canadian criminal justice system and their role in it.
Most criminal law in Canada is contained in the Criminal Code. Both the Federal and provincial governments have some degree of authority in the realm of criminal law. Federal laws and provincial laws address issues pertinent to crime victims, such as entitlement to information, services and assistance, and a victim’s role in criminal proceedings. The guide explains aspects of crime investigation and the bringing of criminal charges, as well as information on arrest, release, and bail hearings. The guide goes on to enumerate how the criminal justice system protects victims of crime through the use of closed court proceedings, publication bans, and by allowing child witnesses younger than 18, or witnesses suffering from mental or physical difficulties, to testify outside of the courtroom or behind a screen that serves as a barrier between the witness and the accused. Victim recourse in the face of criminal harassment, intimidation, and threats is outlined and the process of getting a peace bond is explained. The guide also explains that young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 are dealt with under the Young Offenders Act and go through a special youth court. The following section describes the process of going to court for a criminal proceeding. The responsibilities and authority of the Crown Prosecutor and the defense lawyer are discussed, as are the roles of victims and witnesses in court. The levels of court and categories of criminal offenses are described. Aspects of establishing proof in criminal cases and the process of answering criminal charges are similarly enumerated. The next section explains aspects of the trial process, including the preliminary hearing, the trial itself, the sentencing portion, the use of victim impact statements, and the range of sentencing options. Also included in this section are discussions about mentally disordered accused and the appeals process. Following sentencing, perpetrators enter the corrections system and may have the options of parole and statutory release, which are explicated in the guide. Finally, the guide offers information concerning life sentences, Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, and the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime. Resources for further information are listed. Glossary, evaluation