Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime Jan. 5, 2009)


The Truth About Victim Impact Statements

  A Victims Point of View


   By Sandra Martins-Toner

As an advocate for victims of crime, and a mother of a murdered child, my feelings are quite mixed when it comes to the use of victim impact statements. I myself sat for months trying to write one to be used during the trial for the two that senselessly and violently took my child’s life, but still I wonder if it would have made any difference at all.

I have always been one who kept a journal and wrote because it just came naturally, even after my sons’ murder I continued to write my thoughts and feelings. I was able to gage my grieving throughout the months that followed the tragedy, and realized quickly how therapeutic writing was. I was able to purge my soul, without restrictions or censoring onto blank pages, and it was a great release. I now recommend this to the other victims/families that come to the organization I founded for help and support. In fact I urge them to write two versions of the impact statement, one with everything they wished they could say, and the other, a much more politically correct version for the courts.

I found myself incredibly frustrated with the strict guidelines I had to adhere to in order to even have my statement read before the judge. Victims are given a package with instructions on how to write the statement, only to be told that we cannot really say what we want to say. Your statement must detail the trauma the violent act has placed on us and our family. We are not allowed to speak about the crime directly, nor can we speak directly to the accused, or the judge. We cannot offer an opinion, or suggest what we hope the outcome of sentencing should be. God forbid we should feel the need to call our children’s or loved ones killers something nasty, oh no, no, we wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings, or demean them in anyway. Just in case we do some psychological damage. Who are we kidding here? These violent criminals have just murdered our children and loved ones in ways I cannot even begin to describe, and now we are trying to spare them any psychological trauma?

The impact statement is divided into three categories, and those in order are, how this has affected you financially, physically and emotionally. The right of a victim to complete a Victim Impact Statement is legislated under Section 722 of the Criminal code of Canada, and it is supposed to be taken into consideration by the sentencing judge. Whether or not it is, we will never know, as it seems the men and women behind the bench answer to no one. It should be pointed out that defence has the right to read it before it is introduced, and can edit or move that the statement not be read out in court at their discretion. Should they find anything questionable, it will never be read by the victim/families.

Some advocates have applauded the Victim Impact statement as a voice for the victims and their families, but this is highly questionable, given the censorship that takes place.

Many victims and their families choose not to prepare a statement or read it out in court, as they feel the anguish and emotional trauma this will cause them is largely without reward. Aside from some cathartic release that may be gained by speaking out in the presence of the accused, most experts agree that the effect on the outcome of the proceedings is negligible.

The impact of the statement on the Judges sentencing decision is more placebo than anything else, since at the point during which the statement is read in Court, the Judge’s sentence has already been written. How much input is there really if the sentence is already written? That would be like asking the accused to enter their plea of guilty or not guilty after the trial is complete.

Although the place of victims in the criminal court process has become more recognized in recent years, and considered to be on the increase overall, there still remains a  significant amount of work to be done. Beyond just being considered by the Judge as mandated in the Criminal Code, some weight should be given in sentencing based on what has been revealed in the statement. In order for the victim’s impact statement to have any real impact, it must be more than a mere placation of the victims and their families.

Sandra Martins-Toner is the founder and executive Director of F.A.C.T. and can be contacted at




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