section 2

INTRODUCTION AND BRIEF DESCRIPTION

The term "victim" is defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code. The term is defined broadly and includes an alleged victim, meaning a conviction need not be entered for the term to apply.

SECTION WORDING

2. victim means a person against whom an offence has been committed, or is alleged to have been committed, who has suffered, or is alleged to have suffered, physical or emotional harm, property damage or economic loss as the result of the commission or alleged commission of the offence and includes, for the purposes of sections 672.5, 722 and 745.63, a person who has suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage or economic loss as the result of the commission of an offence against any other person.

EXPLANATION

Section 2 of the Criminal Code contains many definitions of terms used throughout the legislation. The term "victim" has been given an expansive definition, notably those who have suffered harm as a result of an alleged crime. That is, a conviction need not be entered for the term "victim" to be wielded. The term "victim" appears over two-hundred times within the Criminal Code. Alternative definitions of the term exist notably at section 722(4). There are many other pieces of legislation which also define the term in slightly different ways, including many provincial Acts that deal with victim compensation. Further legislative treatment of the term victim is found at section 722 of the Code, when dealing with Victim Impact Statements.

COMMENTARY

Section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada serves a significant purpose in clearly defining what constitutes a victim of a criminal offence, and outlines the various forms of harm that a victim may have experienced as a result of the offence committed against them. The section provides a broad and inclusive definition of victimhood which is essential to ensure that individuals who have been affected by crime are supported and provided with access to justice. The definition of a victim under this section is comprehensive and covers several different types of harm, including physical and emotional harm, economic loss, and property damage. This broad definition is essential to ensure that all individuals affected by crimes, regardless of the nature of the crime, are provided with protection and support. It also means that victims of crime do not have to suffer physical injury to be classified as a victim. It provides a more sophisticated understanding of victimhood that extends beyond the narrow range of harms that one typically associates with the term, emphasizing the diverse and complex terrain of the victim experience. The section also includes an important provision which extends the definition of victimhood to include individuals who have suffered harm as a result of an offence committed against another person. This provision is critical and ensures that individuals who may not have been the direct target of a criminal offence but who have nonetheless suffered harm as a result of it are recognized as victims and, as such, are entitled to the same level of support and protection as the primary victim. This provision ensures that loved ones and family members who were not the direct target of the crime but nonetheless suffered harm are recognized and provided with necessary support. The inclusion of this section in the Criminal Code of Canada must be celebrated as a sign of progress in addressing the impact of criminal offences on victims. The section recognizes the complexity and diversity of victimhood, and it creates the legal framework necessary for authorities to take a more comprehensive and empathetic approach to supporting and protecting victims of crime. It is crucial in ensuring the necessary support and services are available for victims to cope with the aftermath of a crime and to move forward with their lives. Overall, this section of the Criminal Code of Canada serves to underline the importance of recognizing victimhood and the impact it has on individuals, families and communities. By defining what constitutes a victim and outlining the forms of harm that can result from a criminal offence, it broadens our understanding of the victim experience and marks a crucial step forward in the recognition and protection of victims' rights.

STRATEGY

The definition of the term victim often arises in situations where the Crown is seeking a publication ban on one of the victim's names, or alternatively, when the Crown is attempting to submit a victim impact statement from a collateral who purports to have been victimized by the crime. These situations often arise in cases where a youthful teen has been assaulted, and the parents submit victim impact statements, or as was seen in R. v. K.J. referenced below, where a social worker was able to submit a victim impact statement about the effect of the crime on one of her clients. Since victim impact statements can only be used for limited purposes, it is often an academic exercise in attempting to exclude a victim impact statement of a slighly less connected individual. Generally, the Court's preference has been to allow the statement to be read, with a judicial nod to the effect that a victim impact statement must be overtly directed to "permissible information" and "used for its intended purpose." As regards publication bans, again, the Courts have tended to take expansive definitions of the term and err on the side of granting the publication ban on the purported victim's name if requested.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q.

The person who caused harm to me has not yet been convicted. Am I still considered a "victim" at law under the Criminal Code?

A.

Yes. The definition set out in this section clearly defines a "victim" as someone "...against whom an offence has been committed, or is alleged to have been committed." Thus, the term "victim" could still be used in court to describe an alleged victim even though the trial has not yet resulted in a conviction. Despite this, it is generally considered bad form to refer to a witness as a "victim" prior to a guilty verdict. Crowns, defence lawyers and Judges will tend to avoid that term until a conviction is rendered. This however results more from convention than operation of law. Contrariwise, it is not unusual for any courtroom participant to use the word "victim" interchangeably with the term "alleged victim" as the trial progresses. I.e. "The victim is requesting a publication ban prior to commencement of the trial, your Honour."

Q.

I am the victim of a crime. Am I automatically entitled to compensation?

A.

No. The criminal court system in Canada deals with the question of guilt or innocence of an accused, and the appropriate punishment upon conviction. The criminal process can impose restitution in the event of monetary loss. For example, if a person damaged your vehicle and is convicted of mischief, the Court can impose payment of restitution on an accused to pay for the damage caused. This is known as a free-standing restitution order. The criminal court, however, is not equipped to deal with loses due to pain and suffering or psychological damage. The civil law system, or alternatively, the criminal injuries compensation boards of the various provinces are best suited to dealing with damages beyond basics in a criminal context.

RELATED CASES

The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench deals with whether siblings of the victim of a crime constitute "victims" as per the Criminal Code, in the context of granting a publication ban on the victim's names. Justice Strekaf holds at paragraph 20: "Under this definition, the siblings of the deceased child do not qualify as victims for the purposes of section 486.4 and, therefore, no application was properly before the Court on their behalf, nor was there jurisdiction to grant an order on their behalf."
Justice Mossip of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considers the definition of "victim" as drafted in section 2 of the Criminal Code at paragraph 32 in the context of victim impact statements. Recognizing, at paragraph 30, that the purpose of a victim impact statement was: "[to]...provide information to the Judge about the impact of the crime" and "...provide the victim an opportunity for meaningful participation", the Judge endorsed an expansive definition of the term victim to include "...both direct victims and victims directly affected." Thus, individuals impacted by the crime, in this case the social workers who took the initial crime report, were allowed to submit victim impact statements.

RELATED LINKS

A relatively recent focus on victim's rights in Canada has led to the creation of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The Act received Royal Assent on April 23, 2015 under the Harper government, begins with preamble that "...victims of crime and their families deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect, including respect for their dignity"
Ontario has a specialized tribunal known as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB). Its function is to assess monetary compensation for victims and family members of deceased victims of violent crimes committed in Ontario.
The Compensation for Victims of Crime Act is a piece of legislation in Ontario that sets out the process, the tribunal and compensation system for victims of crime in Ontario.

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