Debbie Mahaffy, whose daughter Leslie, was brutally murdered, wants a National Victims’ Bill of Rights and a National Office of Victims’ Affairs. Mahaffy knows from bitter experience that she, as well as Leslie’s father Dan, and brother, Ryan, all became victims when Leslie was tortured and killed.
For too long a victim’s family has been considered “non-persona, non-existent, a nuisance or a headache in the justice system.” There are Victims’ Bulls of Rights in all provinces except Alberta and the Territories. Mahaffy believes a National Office is needed to ensure that the bills are enforced.
An Office of Victims’ Affairs would correct such wrongs as not informing the victim’s family that a plea bargain is being discussed between the crown and the defense, not informing the family that the offender has been released on early parole, not notifying family members of court dates, parole hearings or of when and how to prepare and submit a victim impact statement.
Mahaffy has not read what the Liberal’s 1997 Red Book has to say on victims’ rights but she feels “they had their chance and blew.” Justice Minister Allan Rock “has dragged his feet for a year” and did not repeal Section 745 of the Criminal Code. Mahaffy wants Section 745, passed in 1976, totally repealed. Referred to as the “faint hope clause”, it enables murderers who have been given 25-year life sentences to apply for early parole.
The Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party have both publicly promised to establish a National Victims’ Bill of Rights and a National Office of Victims’ Affairs. Mahaffy believes that on Parliament Hill, Reform MP Randy White has been the greatest champion of victim’s rights. Mahaffy said Rock only had to look to the national Office for Victims (NOVA) in the United States. NOVA oversees all the states’ office. Such an ombudsman is needed to coordinate the provincial offices in Canada. Ontario Attorney General, Charles Harnick, also gets high praise from Mahaffy. Harnick had $10.2 million earmarked for victims’ assistance in Ontario, June of last year.
This allowed victim witness coordinators in 15 Ontario courthouses to be increased to 30. But Mahaffy is concerned that with government cutbacks there will be no way to enforce victims’ rights. She is worried that the victims’ assistance persons, trained civilians working alongside the police force, will be reduced.
Pat Smith supported the Mahaffy family from the first terrible moment of death notification through several lengthy trails. These civilians spell off the police who have to focus on the investigation. Mahaffy asks, “Which political candidate can recognize that an equal number of dollars spent on the criminal’s rehabilitation should also be spent on rehabilitating the victim’s family who often need long-term counseling?”
A memorial service for Ontario murder victims and their families will be held Saturday, June 14th, in Burlington at Brant Bible Church at noon. For each victim a candle is lit, either by family members or by service organizers if the family is unable to attend. A reception at 1 p.m. will allow families a chance to network.