OTTAWA — The federal government has now left a key victim-rights watchdog role vacant for more than nine months.
There has been no federal ombudsman for victims of crime since Oct. 1, and the Department of Justice only launched an application process for the job at the end of February.
Conservative Senator and longtime victim-rights advocate Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu recently criticized the delay in filling the “vital” position, which he argued should be made into a more-independent officer of Parliament.
Boisvenu told a House of Commons committee in June that an ombudsman could have been a strong voice for victims’ families during the ongoing inquiry into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting.
“No ombudsman is currently conveying the anger of victims’ families and speaking out against violations of their rights,” he said.
At the same hearing, Jennifer Gold of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario called for an ombudsman to be found “expeditiously.”
Gold said the office should be expanded to provide more fulsome oversight over the application of the 2015 Victims Bill of Rights, which sought to outline and bolster the rights available to victims within the criminal justice system.
“It’s lovely to write all these wonderful things, but if it’s not being seen in action and if it’s not being experienced by victims, it’s rhetoric,” she said.
Heidi Illingworth, who served as the ombudsman until October, had criticized the government for “sporadic and inconsistent” implementation of the bill, which the House of Commons passed unanimously in the dying days of Stephen Harper’s majority Conservative government.
In a scathing statement last summer — one of her last in the role — Illingworth said there had been no meaningful efforts to inform victims of their rights or make the system accountable for its failings to deliver, ultimately making the bill “a symbolic instrument.”
Illingworth was appointed in 2018 after another long vacancy of 11 months.
The office was stood up in 2007 with a mandate to support and advocate for victims, including making recommendations to the federal government.
A press secretary for Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement Monday that the work to find a new ombudsman is ongoing and one will be appointed “in due course.”
The office of the ombudsman continues to handle victims’ complaints and assist them in finding services, the press secretary said.