Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 4
For Part 4 of this series, we spoke to Ramona Robins, Chief Crown Prosecutor with the Government of Alberta, Justice and Solicitor General.
As stated on the Government of Alberta website, the Crown Prosecutor’s responsibilities include determining appropriate charges, discussions with defense counsel, preparing witnesses for court, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and presenting arguments respecting conviction and sentence. The prosecutor’s decisions are governed by the law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, legal tradition, Alberta Justice policy, and the Law Society of Alberta’s Code of Conduct. There are approximately 300 Crown Prosecutors across Alberta, with 6 of those assigned in Medicine Hat.
By the time a sexual assault case file is delivered to the Crown Prosecutor, a number of steps have already taken place. Police services would have received a complaint, conducted their investigation, and determined that a crime has occurred. A disclosure document is then prepared and delivered to the Crown Prosecutor for review. It is then the Crown’s responsibility to determine if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction. This means that there must be enough information for a judge to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged offender is guilty.
“When a sexual assault file makes it to court,” says Chief Crown Prosecutor Ramona Robins, “it is important for the victim to know that the first application made by the Crown is for a publication ban.” A publication ban prevents media from disclosing the victim’s name on tv, radio, or in print throughout the trial. “It takes time to gather the information,” adds Robins, “so court dates can be adjourned multiple times to get everything in order. People might think something is wrong, but it just takes time.”
If the alleged offender pleads guilty, the victim does not even need to appear in court if they so choose. They will be given the option to fill out a victim impact statement, which they can read aloud themselves in court or present it to the judge and it will be read on their behalf. This document is used to help the judge determine a sentence for the offender.
If a non-guilty plea is entered, then the victim is requested to go to court. For some, this can be a scary, stressful, and traumatizing experience. It can also be a validating, strengthening, and healing experience for the victim. By facing their alleged offender, some victims find it extremely powerful to stand up to someone who has harmed them. By ensuring supports are in place, the Crown connects the victim to a paralegal and Crown Prosecutor. These individuals can help prep the victim for court and connect them to supports like Victim Assistance (VA). There is also the option of being divided by a screen in court so the victim does not have to face the alleged offender if they do not want to, they can have the VA service dog – Mulder – sit with them in court, and children can have an impartial support person with them as they testify (ex. a family member who is not involved in the case.)
“It’s important for victims to remember that resources are available in the community,” says Robins. “No one is alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Get the help you need to live your life every day.” This has been a major advantage sitting at the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) table. “All SART members work together to support victims. We want the affected individual to feel valued, supported, and safe.”
Click here to read Part 5.