What rights do I have in the criminal justice system?

The Ontario Victims’ Bill of Rights , and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights set out a number of rights for victims and survivors, including the right to:

Information:  You are entitled to information about how the criminal justice system functions and your role in it, as well as the status of the investigation and the court proceedings. You are also entitled to information about services and programs available to you as a survivor of crime.

Protection: Your safety (which includes physical, emotional and psychological safety) must be considered by the police, the Crown and the court, and efforts should be made to protect you from intimidation and retaliation.  You also have the right to request various kinds of support if you testify in court.

Privacy Safeguards: You have the right to request a publication ban so your name or identifying information cannot be published.  You have the right to independent legal counsel should the defence seek access to your confidential records, such as medical notes.

Participation: You have the right to express your views about decisions that affect your rights and to have your views considered.  If the person who sexually assaulted you (the accused) is found guilty, you have the right to present to the judge, before the accused is sentenced,  specific information about the impact the crime has had on all parts of your life.

Restitution:  For certain financial losses that resulted because of the sexual assault, you can request that the judge order the offender to pay you for those losses.

Sensitivity:  You have the right to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for your personal dignity by justice system officials.  During the investigation of the crime you can also request to be interviewed during the investigation of the crime by police officers of the same gender as you.

Complaint: You can make a complaint if, in your opinion, your rights have not been respected. 

The Ontario Human Rights Code says every person has the right to be free from discrimination based on sex, and this includes sexual harassment. The Code applies to five “social" areas:

  • services, goods and facilities (including education);
  • housing;
  • contracts;
  • employment; and
  • membership in vocational associations such as trade unions.

Sometimes when a people speak up about sexual harassment they can experience “reprisal” or punishment. The Code prohibits reprisal, which includes such things as being hostile to someone, excessive scrutiny (for example, at work), excluding someone socially or other negative behaviour because someone has rejected a sexual advance or other propositions (such as a request for a date).

You do not have to object to the harassment when it happens for there to be a violation, or for you to claim your rights under the Code. You may be in a vulnerable situation and afraid to speak out. Some people might go along with the harassment because they worry about what will happen if they object. Nevertheless, in these cases it is still sexual harrasment, and is still against the law.

Example: A property manager and property management company were found liable for the sexual harassment of a young female tenant due to the manager’s inappropriate behaviour toward her. As well as making unwanted sexual comments, he tried to impose a friendly relationship on her, and his “open door” policy included leaving his door open into a common hallway while he was masterbating.