Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 10

A strategy for assessing the impact of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights – Opportunities to make better use of current data holdings

By Melanie Kowalski

Melanie Kowalski is a Unit Head with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada. She is leading the data project on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

Introduction

In recent decades, the role of victims in the criminal justice system has grown through various means, such as legislative reform and increased funding for services. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR), which came into force in 2015, is a significant development for victims of crime.Footnote 11 The CVBR establishes statutory rights for victims to information, protection and participation, as well as the right to request restitution. The CVBR also establishes a complaint process for alleged breaches of these rights by a federal department or agency. These changes are expected to have significant impacts on Canada’s justice system and on victim services.

The Minister of Justice’s mandate letter requires that “… work will be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians.”Footnote 12 The CVBR presents a strategic opportunity to develop and align statistical measures to support evidence- based policy and decision-making related to victims of crime (Johnston-Way and O’Sullivan 2016).

In an effort to identify data that could be used to measure the impact of the CVBR on the justice system, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) at Statistics Canada, undertook a data-mapping study. The goal of the study was to outline research needs and opportunities to gather information about how victims of crime interact with the justice system. To facilitate the project, the CCJS consulted representatives of numerous Justice partners (police services, courts, corrections and victim services), along with those of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and non-governmental and academic organizations, between October 2015 and February 2016 to determine the feasibility of collecting data at various stages of justice processes. Results from these consultations clearly indicated that while data sources differ, various partners already collect a wide array of valuable information. Furthermore, many Justice partners indicated that they had begun to plan how best to realign internal processes, including data gathering, to respond effectively to the CVBR. This report describes potential approaches to assessing the impact of the CVBR by exploiting existing data sources.

Assessing the impact of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights

The strength of the CVBR will be measured by how well it responds to the needs of victims. To determine the impact of the CVBR, different kinds of statistical information will need to be collected, particularly information that indicates:

  • Whether the justice system has created the necessary mechanisms and/or processes to address CVBR requirements (e.g., police services distributing CVBR information cards; Correctional Service Canada’s Victim Portal providing victims with information about federally incarcerated offenders; the numbers of victim-impact-statement forms provided to victims, etc.)
  • Whether victims access the rights afforded them by the CVBR, and which factors influence them to access these rights.
  • Whether CVBR provisions have in fact produced positive outcomes through services made available for victims, such as a greater feeling among victims of personal safety or of being treated fairly by the justice system.

Opportunities to exploit current data holdings

The CCJS consultations identified a number of options for the collection and sharing of victim information to assess the impact of the CVBR; these were presented to the Federal Ombudsman of Victims of Crime. The options listed below outline different ways that current data holdings might be exploited and/or further developed to enhance understanding of the CVBR’s impacts. These options reflect different methods or approaches to collecting information and may be used in combination.

Option A: Victim Services National Data Requirements Aggregate Survey

The provinces and territories are responsible for providing the majority of services to victims and consequently have a wealth of information about those to whom they provide services. There is no systematic, standard method to define, collect, report and publish these valuable data, however. Administrative data from victim services across Canada needs to be standardized to support effective analysis. To examine, compare and analyze data about the services delivered in different jurisdictions, similar data must be collected in similar ways and to similar standards. In collaboration with victim services organizations, CCJS must determine:

  1. the scope of analysis (which victim services to examine);
  2. which data to collect (e.g. numbers and characteristics of victims and of services, etc.);
  3. how to standardize information and make it comparable across jurisdictions (or service types);
  4. how often to collect and update this information;
  5. the best method to gather information; and, finally,
  6. how to publish or otherwise disseminate this information.

Option B: Increasing the quality of information in existing administrative data sets and adding questions to the General Social Survey on Victimization

Several Statistics Canada programs collect data on victims that could be exploited and enhanced to fill current gaps. The CCJS is currently redesigning its surveys to improve the information collected from police and correctional services, and courts. This is an opportune time to examine the quality of the data currently collected and address any identified gaps. For example, the Police Administration Survey collects baseline information on police personnel and expenditures from policing services across Canada. This survey would be a useful tool to measure how police services across Canada provide information to victims about their rights and the services available to them. This would also help to measure performance on the CVBR’s right to information.

The Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) collects detailed caseload, case-processing and sentencing information for all Criminal Code and other federal statute charges tried in criminal courts in Canada. The ICCS is currently undergoing a redesign and initial consultations identified victim information as a key need. Therefore, as part of redesign activities, CCJS will review the ICCS with its national partners and examine how to better capture information about victims. In particular, information on:

  • Sentences involving a restitution order (aligns with the CVBR’s right to request restitution)
  • Type of conditions imposed as part of orders that include restitution (aligns with the CVBR’s right to request restitution)
  • Whether a victim-impact statement was filed in court (aligns with the CVBR’s right to participation)

Analysis of current and post-redesign ICCS data can help to determine whether certain types of offences are more likely to lead to sentences that include restitution orders. This analysis can also correlate the presentation of victim-impact statements with particular outcomes and types of offences.

The CCJS will soon begin to collect new data through the Canadian Correctional Services Survey (CCSS), a redesigned version of the Integrated Correctional Services Survey. The CCSS will continue to collect data from both youth and adult correctional-services programs, such as data about custodial and community supervision. Information on restitution will be captured in almost all jurisdictions, either through stand-alone restitution orders for youth, or as a condition of probation orders or conditional sentence orders (for both adults and youth). The CCSS will also collect data about the amounts of restitution ordered (aligns with the CVBR’s right to request restitution).

Depending on when jurisdictions started to gather these data, it might be possible to measure some of the CVBR’s impacts.

Self-reported victimization: General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization)

Since many crimes are not reported to police for a variety of reasons, self-reported victimization data represent an essential complement to justice-system statistics. To get a complete picture of criminal activity and criminal victimization in Canada, and to develop sound justice policy, the perspectives of both police and victims must be considered.

Data collected through the GSS on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) focuses on victims of crime and their experiences. Unlike the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR), the GSS (Victimization) collects data about  both reported and unreported crimes (limited to eight crime types). Statistics Canada currently conducts the GSS (Victimization) every five years – most recently in 2014. The CCJS could bolster the 2019 edition to support the assessment of the CVBR’s impacts.

New content could include more detailed questions about victims of crime, their perceptions of the justice system, and the overall impact of the services they accessed. Questions about whether victims felt that they participated in the justice process, whether their safety was considered throughout court processes, and whether they had been informed of their rights when they reported the crime to police, would all contribute to the assessment of the CVBR’s impacts. Additional questions exploring why victims did not access services could also be considered.

While some data gaps might be addressed through modifications to Statistics Canada surveys, other data gaps might be better addressed through alternate data collection methods or through administrative data collected by other departments or organizations. Such departments and organizations include the Parole Board of Canada, Correctional Service Canada and various victim services agencies across Canada.

Option C: Measurement of outcomes

The spirit of the CVBR is, in essence, to ensure that the justice system responds appropriately to victims of crime, not only by providing services, but also by ensuring that the services meet their needs and result in positive outcomes. As such, measurements of the types of outcomes experienced as a result of services would be highly useful for Justice partners. Measuring these outcomes, however, presents many challenges. Victims’ needs and the services available vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another. The contexts, objectives and results of programs related to counselling, shelters, collection of restitution and restorative justice, all differ. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all measure of outcomes. To properly measure outcomes of victim services, specific questions on possible impacts and outcomes must be developed that pertain specifically to the type of service provided.

Statistics Canada, in partnership with provincial and territorial directors of victim-services organizations, could develop a series of outcome measures based on specific types of services. These measures could be part of an exit survey administered by victim-services agencies. Statistics Canada would work with Justice partners to determine which services to focus on, the best ways to collect information and to standardize questions, how frequently to collect data, and how best to publish or otherwise disseminate the results. Due to the variety of victim services, it is highly recommended that this option begin with a pilot project in a single jurisdiction prior to exploring national implementation.

In addition, Statistics Canada could support the development of a core set of questions about levels of satisfaction that would be employed by all victim-services agencies. The notion of satisfaction is complex, so it is essential that it be clearly defined by Justice partners. This will ensure that the information collected adequately addresses the relevant policy questions, that it is a reliable measure of victim experiences, and that it is sufficiently standardized to support comparisons across jurisdictions and service types. The core set of satisfaction questions would be tested, employed by jurisdictions and collected as part of the proposed aggregate survey (Option A).

Moving forward

To properly assess the CVBR’s impacts and the performance of various parts of the justice system, a combination of all three options would be required. Adequate funding would also be required.

In May 2016, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues provided funds to the CCJS to work with provincial and territorial directors of victim-services agencies on the development of standardized indicators of the numbers and types of services that victims access (Option A). Administrative data from victim-services agencies across Canada are currently undergoing a standardization process to support the collection and dissemination of these data. The CCJS is developing the victim-services national data-requirements aggregate survey to help measure how well the justice system provides services to victims and whether victims access these services.

The aim is to publish information about performance at the national, provincial and territorial levels, including the numbers and characteristics of victims served, and their use and experience of victim services, such as assistance with victim- and community-impact statements.

Much of this data may be available for periods before the implementation of the CVBR, and can be used to examine the CVBR’s impact on victim services. National indicators will enhance capacity to develop relevant policy, legislation and initiatives. In addition to providing tools for measuring the CVBR’s impacts, these data could also help to set funding priorities. The data would also help to inform the federal, provincial and territorial governments about how the various parts of the justice system have responded to the CVBR – that is, how police, courts and correctional systems engage victims as active participants in the justice system, and whether victims are active in criminal-justice processes.

Summary

The justice sector collects a wealth of data that could assist in examining the impact of victim services pre- and post- CVBR. This report describes possible approaches to building on current administrative and sample surveys at Statistics Canada by increasing the quality of data collected and/ or by adding new content to address gaps, as well as by exploiting existing data sources (collected through victim- services administrative data) to develop national indicators. Finally, another option would be to develop a new survey that would assess and measure the outcomes experienced by victims who access these services. It is important to note that a combination of all three options would be necessary to assess the many facets of the CVBR. The best approach would likely involve linking data sets, adding new variables to existing surveys or increasing data quality and the scope of information already collected. With the full engagement of Justice partners and with the help of victim-services agencies across Canada, national indicators of victim issues can be standardized and collected at various parts of the criminal-justice system across federal and provincial/ territorial jurisdictions to assess the impacts of the CVBR and to answer key questions such as: How are victims exercising their rights? And is the CVBR making a difference?

References

  • Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts, 2nd Sess, 41st Parl, 2015 (assented to 23 April, 2015) (“Bill C-32”).
  • Johnston-Way, Sarah and O’Sullivan, Sue. 2016. “Recognizing the role of victim supports in building and maintaining healthy and safe communities” Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being 1:2, 12-15.
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