BC communities can now tell judges how crime affects them

Posted to: 
Law
11/08/2016

Until recently, the law only permitted judges to consider victim impact statements submitted by individuals. But in July 2015, the federal government changed Canada's Criminal Code to allow judges to consider community impact statements when they are sentencing people for criminal offences. In September 2016 the BC government established the procedures for communities to follow when preparing their statements for court.

Individual victim statements describing the emotional, physical and financial impacts of criminal offences have been an important part of sentencing for many years. They convey to the judge and to the offender the real consequences of a crime, and often do so movingly. To read a break and enter victim’s account of how his child has nightmares and can’t sleep in the dark, or a purse-snatching victim’s sadness at becoming a shut-in because she is afraid to leave her home, is heart-rending. Understanding these consequences helps the judge craft a sentence that fits the crime as well as the offender.

Now a community representative – someone representing a city government, local organization, religious group or First Nations community – can prepare a statement describing the harm and losses suffered by a community and the people who live and work there. The statement must be in writing on a prescribed form and submitted to the court registry where the offence occurred. It may include information on economic and emotional impacts or deprivation of access to a service or facility. It must comply with requirements set out in the Criminal Code. For example, an impact statement must not include:

  • anything about the offence or the offender that is not relevant to the harm or loss suffered by the community
  • any unproven allegations
  • anything about any offence for which the offender was not convicted
  • any complaint about any individual, other than the offender, who was involved in the investigation or prosecution of the offence
  • an opinion or recommendation about the sentence, except with the judge’s approval

Before a victim impact statement can be considered in a sentencing hearing, the law requires a judge to ensure that it meets the Criminal Code requirements and doesn’t contain any prohibited information. Then the judge will weigh the impact on victims and the community along with all the other factors that must be considered in sentencing.

Community Impact Statements will give communities a chance to explain the impact of crimes on their members and provide judges with an important perspective. For more information, see the Community Victim Impact Factsheet and BC government website.

You can also call 1-844-660-5343 with questions about completing a Community Impact Statement, or contact VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 / 604-875-0885 (TTY) or VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca to find a victim service worker in your area.