Witness Tips - Victim Impact Statement
What is a victim impact statement?
A victim impact statement (VIS) is a written or oral statement describing the emotional and physical harm, or economic loss the victim has experienced due to the offence(s). In most provinces, there is a form to help you write your VIS. These forms may vary slightly so it is a good idea to check the Provincial and Territorial Links if you need information.
What is the purpose of the victim impact statement?
A Victim Impact Statement is your opportunity to tell the court and the offender, in your own words, how the crime has affected or is still affecting you. The judge is required by law to consider your statement when sentencing the offender.
Does every victim have to write a victim impact statement?
No. Writing a VIS is entirely your choice. You do not have to give a statement if you do not want to, and you can also change your mind at any time before the sentencing.
When should I fill out a victim impact statement?
Most often, VIS are presented at the sentencing hearing, however you should speak to the Crown prosecutor about when your Victim Impact Statement should be completed.
Who can complete a victim impact statement?
Any person who has been physically and/or emotionally harmed, had financial losses and/or their property damaged as a result of a crime, can complete a Victim Impact Statement.
In most cases, the victim of a crime writes the statement. In other cases, the statement is prepared by someone on behalf of the victim including, a parent guardian of a child victim or a survivor of a deceased victim. If the victim is not capable of making their own statement, a spouse, dependent or relative of a victim may complete the statement on their behalf, but it must be in the words of the victim. A victim impact statement can also be written by a person who has indirectly been affected by the crime committed, such as a family member or loved one.
If you are unsure if you are the right person to fill in the Victim Impact Statement, it is best to ask the Crown prosecutor.
What happens after the statement is completed?
Once you have signed your statement, you can give a copy to the Crown prosecutor. The Crown prosecutor will then give the written statement to the judge. The Victim Impact Statement will be given to the offender and their lawyer as well.
If you would like to read your statement out loud in court, you must tell the Crown prosecutor before doing so. If you would not like to read it out loud, but would like someone else to read it on your behalf, you must ask the judge. The judge will decide whether they would allow it. Given the court's approval, you can present your verbal or written statement and the judge will consider your statement for the sentencing.
Special considerations such as allowing a support person, or a screen to block the view of the offender will be considered for vulnerable victims.
It is important that the information in the Statement is accurate. Although this rarely happens, the defence lawyer may question the author about the Impact statement.
Your statement will be filed with the court, making it a public record. A public record means that those who are administrators of justice such as Crown prosecutors, probation staff and correction staff, will have access to your statement.
Can someone help me with my victim impact statement?
There is help available; so don't worry if you find it difficult to write how the crime has affected you. The investigating officer or Crown prosecutor may be able to direct you to someone in your community that will be able to help.
It is not always easy to write about the harms or loss you experienced from a crime. Here are a few suggestions:
- Write a rough draft first. It is a good idea to review the statement with the Crown prosecutor or the Victim Services counsellor.
- Avoid using any offensive or profane languages.
- Do not write about what you think the sentencing should be.
- Include details about how you, your family and/or loved ones have been hurt as a result of the crime, but do not write about how the crime happened.
- Add things that would make you feel safer (i.e. no contact with the accused), as the judge can include those conditions in the sentence.
- Ensure your statement is legible.
- Your statement will become available to the offender. Your personal information such as your address and phone number will be removed before your statement is shared.
- Do not include unnecessary information about yourself. For example, if you have changed your name from the time of the offence, you can still include your old name on your statement.
- Focus on the impact of the crime and divide the impact statement into three categories: emotional, physical and financial.
About the emotional impact of the crime, write about any changes that have happened that you think are a result of the crime:
- How has your life changed or the lives of those close to you?
- What are some of the feelings you have been experiencing?
- What are some of the reactions you had to cope with? For example, trouble sleeping, eating and/or difficulty concentrating?
- Has there been any change in how you feel about yourself since the crime?
- Has there been a change in how you are able to relate to others like your friends, your parents, or other family members?
- Have you been talking to a doctor or a counsellor to get support or help you cope?
- You can include a picture, poem, drawing or letter as part of your statement to express how the crime affected you.
About the physical impact, you may wish to write about how you were hurt or any medical problems you have as a result of the crime:
- What are some of the physical injuries you or your family have suffered?
- How long did the injuries take to heal or how long does the doctor suggest it will take for your injuries to heal?
- What medical treatment did you get, or will you need in the future?
- How have the injuries impacted your lifestyle, such as going to school, work or playing sports you enjoyed before the crime occurred?
About the financial impact, you may wish to write in your statement:
- How has the crime affected your family and/or loved one's ability to work?
- How many days of work have you missed because of the crime?
- Are you facing any financial hardships that prevent you from paying any necessary bills?
- The cost of medical, dental, and psychological treatment because of the crime.
- The costs of prescriptions, medication, physiotherapy etc.
Writing a victim impact statement can be a hard thing to do so remember to be gentle and patient with yourself and take breaks as needed.
Note: Many of the Canadian courts have a Victim/Witness Assistance Program. You can check our Provincial and Territorial Links for services available or call a courthouse in your area.
The Justice Canada Victim Services Directory has links to many services across Canada for victims of crime. You can click on this link to find a program in your community.