What is it like to have your house broken into and robbed? Or, even worse, be the victim of a violent attack? Fortunately, crime is something most of us do not have to face on a day-to-day basis. It is something that we read about in the newspaper or see on the television news. As a result, our views on crime are shaped in part by shows on television and movies.
One of the problems with what we see on television, and in fact with our justice system as it actually operates, is that the focus is most often on the police and the people who commit crimes. The criminal justice system is concerned with convicting and punishing offenders. But some important people are left out. Who? The victims of crime. And they are possibly the people society should be concerned with most of all.
Awareness that more should be done for victims of crime has increased dramatically in the last few years. Citizens groups have formed to fight for victims rights. And, as usual the law has been changed and updated to recognize these new concerns. There have been changes at both the federal and provincial levels.
Federally, recent changes to the criminal law give judges the power to make convicted offenders pay back money to victims of crime. This could be money that was stolen. Or it could be money in place of goods that were stolen and not recovered. Or it could be to pay for damage to property. Offenders may also be enforced to pay victims for physical injury resulting from the criminal act.
Many offenders do not have a lot of money and special provisions take this into account. The judges are instructed to conduct an inquiry into the offenders ability to pay back money to victims.
At the provincial level, Ontario now has a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. People who have been physically injured by an offenders criminal act can claim for their injuries (though amounts covered by OHIP will be deducted). Mental and nervous shock are also covered. If the criminal act resulted in the death of a victim, his or her dependents can make a claim.
The effects of being the victim of crime can range from an annoyance at having to call the insurance company to life long emotional or physical problems in some cases of violent crime. Victims need a lot of support.
The law has begun to recognize the needs of victims in various ways. Dealing with the financial loss of victims of crime is an important first step.