Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts – otherwise known as the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights

Submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST)

November 13, 2014

Mr. Mike Wallace
Chair, Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST)
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON  K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Wallace;

I am writing to you today regarding the privacy implications of Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts – otherwise known as the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

Given that Bill C-32 contains provisions that involve the protection and disclosure of personal information, it is of interest to my Office. I note that Bill C-32 proposes amendments to the Criminal Code, a number of which relate to privacy.  Specifically, the Bill proposes:

  1. To protect the privacy and security interests of complainants and witnesses in proceedings involving certain sexual offences and to ensure that they are informed of their right to be represented by legal counsel;
  2. To enable witnesses to testify pseudonymously in appropriate cases;
  3. To make publication bans for victims under the age of 18 mandatory upon application;
  4. To grant victims the right to “have their privacy considered by the appropriate authorities in the criminal justice system”; and,
  5. To allow for every victim to have their identity protected, upon request, if they are a complainant to the offence or a witness in proceedings related to the offence.  

While my Office supports the introduction of measures to protect the privacy of those who have suffered physical or emotional harm, loss or other damage as a result of the commission of an offence, it is unclear whether this is a measured and proportional response to an identified issue. 

Although I support, in principle, the idea of enhancing privacy protection for victims and witnesses, it remains to be seen how these proposals are to be implemented.  No details are provided on what is meant by “having one’s privacy considered”Footnote 1, nor is it obvious how the measures proposed in this Bill relate to existing privacy rights as enunciated in the Privacy Act.

Bill C-32 further provides that “every victim has the right, on request, to information about …the services and programs available to them as a victim, including restorative justice programs.”  I would draw the Committee’s attention to the phrase “on request” which provides me with some reassurance that victims will only be provided with information or contacted by victims services organizations (VSOs) in accordance with their wishes. This is preferable to the proposed draft Regulations that would allow the RCMP to disclose victims’ information to a VSO even in the absence of consent.

My Office provided input into the amendment of those draft Regulations in response to a call for consultation last February.  In a letter to Public Safety Canada, we indicated our concern with granting the RCMP the regulatory authority to disclose personal information to a VSO about victims without their consent.  We are, therefore, pleased to note that the element of consent has been included in this Bill, but caution that this discrepancy between the Bill and the draft Regulations will have to be reconciled in order to prevent confusion.

Finally, I note that this Bill increases the amount of personal information victims can receive about offenders, which can include:

  • the offender’s progress in meeting their correctional objectives;
  • a current photograph of the offender at the time of release or expiration of the offender’s sentence;
  • information regarding the offender’s deportation, if applicable; and
  • information about the offender’s release date, conditions and destination (unless this disclosure would have a negative impact on public safety).

Although in some cases, this information is already available to victims, Bill C-32 appears to reduce the discretion exercised by the Commissioner of Corrections when this information is requested by a victim.  In addition, I am concerned that this Bill does little to acknowledge the rights of offenders; it is unclear how this informed the development of this Bill, and how it will affect its implementation.  My Office has always appreciated the necessity to strike a balance between privacy rights and the need for safety and security. That said, we will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that sharing of personal information – particularly information of this level of sensitivity – takes place with appropriate authority, is made subject to clear procedures, and is handled with commensurate care and consideration to ensure appropriate balance.

I would welcome the opportunity to speak to any of the points raised above, and would be happy to follow up with whatever information you require in order to ensure that privacy concerns are not overlooked in the context of this Bill.

Sincerely,

(Original signed by)

Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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