- Canadian Parents of Murdered Children and Survivors of Homicide Victims Inc. (CPOMC)
- The Complexities of Homicide Grief
- Murder is Not Entertainment
- Secondary Victimization (A Survivor's Perspective)
- Sibling Grief
- Stop Blaming the Victim
- When Your Only Child is Murdered
CANADIAN PARENTS OF MURDERED CHILDREN AND SURVIVORS OF HOMICIDE VICTIMS INC. (CPOMC)
(Tragically, similar to the metamorphosis of a butterfly, a life had to be lost before CPOMC
could be born)
In December 2009, CPOMC was incorporated as a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to the provision of on-going, lifelong support to parents and survivors of homicide victims in Canada. CPOMC's creation was inspired by the Chair of the organization Yvonne Harvey, an Ottawa resident whose daughter Chrissy was brutally murdered at the age of 28 on Jan. 21, 2007 in St. John's Newfoundland. It was Yvonne's goal to establish CPOMC, for survivors of homicide victims, because she knows the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness one experiences when dealing with the tragedy of murder. She felt that the need for an organization such as CPOMC was paramount for victims all across Canada.
Vision: To provide support and assistance to all survivors of homicide victims across Canada, while actively working towards eliminating the immense loss to our society caused by murder, thereby creating a safer Canada.
Mission: To provide on-going emotional support, education and assistance to all survivors of homicide victims in the aftermath of murder, while promoting public awareness and education of all Canadians.
Objectives: To offer unique support to distressed parents and other persons who have experienced the death by homicide of a son or daughter or other persons (family and friends of those who have died by homicide); provide contact with similarly bereaved parents or other persons; establish self-help groups that meet on a regular basis; provide information about the grieving process specific to survivors of homicide victims; provide information about the criminal justice system as it pertains to survivors of homicide victims; communicate with and provide information to interested professionals in the field of mental health, social work, community services, law enforcement, criminal justice, education, medicine, religion, law, funeral services, and other areas, about the problems faced by the survivors of homicide victims; educate society at large to the challenges faced by the survivors of homicide victims, and foster awareness of such challenges.
Why CPOMC is Necessary
One day people are leading a normal life and the next day they are thrust into a foreign world through no choice of their own, having to deal with police, lawyers, courts, media, parole, as well as their unrelenting grief of having lost a loved one to murder. In an instant, life as we once knew it disappears and the future becomes a struggle between moving on and hanging on. Few can ever appreciate the true impact of murder on a family, yet anyone of us could find ourselves in this position. Living in the aftermath of murder is a constant emotional and spiritual struggle.
Survivors of homicide victims go through the worst grief they will probably ever experience and are constantly being re-victimized by the inevitable bureaucracy that follows a murder, which compounds their trauma.
When someone is murdered, the family left behind embarks on an unwanted emotional rollercoaster, experiencing wave after wave of anger, guilt, blame, rage, depression and denial. Unlike other losses, this sudden and traumatic loss plunges the family head first into the middle of these emotions, which only adds to the intensity of their grief.
CPOMC Support Programs and Services
- A website (www.cpomc.ca) to provide valuable information on CPOMC's programs and services, including survivor support information, stories to remember murdered loved ones by, as well as numerous references and additional resources.
- Monthly, facilitated, support meetings. These meetings are designed to assist survivors of homicide victims by offering a sharing and caring forum for discussion. Generally, meetings will begin with introductions and each survivor telling of their loss. Often there will be a topic to guide discussions (e.g., the grief process, the criminal justice system, or favourite memories.) Initially meetings will be held in Ottawa; however, the goal is to have various CPOMC Chapters established across Canada.
- A series of information kits including brochures, articles, and fact sheets have been developed covering a variety of topics such as sibling grief, victim blaming, problems commonly experienced by survivors of homicide victims etc.
- Other outreach services including direct contact with the national office at (613) 492-1978 to help survivors of homicide victims deal with the aftermath of murder and to provide opportunities for them to connect with other survivors across Canada.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF HOMICIDE GRIEF A SURVIVOR OF A HOMICIDE VICTIM'S PRESPECTIVE
WHAT IS NATURAL GRIEF?
Natural grief is a universal human experience following the death of a loved one. Grief in itself is not bad. It is natural and it is spontaneous. It is the reaction people have to any loss in their life. Grieving is a complex process and someone`s capacity to grieve is influenced by the nature of the loss, their personal resilience and the context of the loss. Grieving is a deeply personal and painful experience. It comes with an array of mixed feelings, sensations, thoughts and behaviours. It is; however, a normal response to loss. It provides for the transition of the loss to be integrated into the person`s life. Grief is the pain and mourning is how we express it.
WHAT IS HOMICIDE GRIEF?
Homicide grief consists of the reactions experienced by natural grief, but is unique in that it has a profound and lasting effect on the victim's family and loved ones. The distress caused by having to deal with such horror of the event itself and the fact that someone could purposely take the life of your loved one is unimaginable. That coupled with having to deal with the police, the media, the investigation, the courts, corrections and various other organizations often tends to re-victimize the survivors of homicide victims for a long time, in some cases tens of years, or their entire life. The effect a homicide has on the victim's family is not only lasting, but it impacts many aspects of life, such as personal relationships, work, and social life, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Survivors begin to question values and beliefs about the world. Life as they once knew it disappears, and it becomes a struggle between moving on and hanging on.
WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF HOMICIDE GRIEF?
People may experience intrusive thoughts about the violent way in which their loved one died, which can be graphic and intense. They may suffer from flashbacks or memories from the scene of the crime, or from having to identify their loved one in a morgue. Also people may feel that their own safety is at risk.
Often survivors of homicide victims feel isolated and alone. Society may place some of the blame on the victim and may attach a stigma to the death. Many people bereaved through homicide feel as though no one understands the depth of their grief, and feel that others have unrealistic expectations of the time it takes to grieve the loss of a loved one as a result of murder.
Dealing with the police can be particularly difficult, especially in the early stages when families are in shock and trying to come to terms with what has happened. The police may not be able to give out any details of the murder due to the on-going investigation, which leaves the family feeling angry, more isolated and confused.
Reporters and the news media can be acutely persistent in their endeavours to obtain "The Story" from the family. They can print inaccurate information or appear to blame the victim, which not only re-victimizes a family, but can have devastating effects on their emotions, mental and physical well-being.
The victim's funeral is an important process in the grief journey. It provides the opportunity to say goodbye to the victim. However, sometimes in the case of homicide where the victim has sustained horrific injuries, families are not encouraged to view the body. This is particularly important to some people, as it is the last opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one. This then becomes an internal emotional struggle with some survivors, wishing they had insisted on seeing their loved one. Did they or did they not make the right decision, will always be a question. And of course, we must not forget the invasion of privacy when the media attends the funeral and perhaps the police investigative team, if the murderer has not yet been arrested.
OUR RIGHT TO GRIEVE
It is important not to allow our family, friends, co-workers or even society in general to pressure us into getting on with the business of living and in doing so, suppress our grief. We have been given an unimaginable heartbreak; we need to be allowed the time to grieve as long as it takes, with respect, understanding, patience, and compassion.
As survivors of homicide victims you are going through the worst possible unimaginable grief you will ever experience. There is no roadmap on this journey through the aftermath of murder. Our needs and intense feelings are normal under the circumstances and we have the right to have them respected. Total resolution or closure for many survivors cannot be expected. Very slowly we work towards the integration of this tragedy into our lives, then painfully we reconstruct our very being, and strive for a "new normal" way of life. Therefore, only you can be the judge of time, be gentle with yourself.
MURDER IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT
The ancient Romans were given to lethal spectator sports. Interesting that in 380 B.C. Saint Augustine lamented that his society was addicted to gladiator games and "drunk with the fascination of bloodshed."
For centuries violence has played a role in human entertainment. The premise of murder as entertainment is cruel, violent, and horrible, and should be totally unacceptable in today`s "civilized" society.
Television, movies, music, and interactive games are powerful learning tools, and highly influential media. It has been reported that the average Canadian child spends as much as 28 hours a week watching television, and typically at least an hour a day playing video games or surfing the Internet. Several more hours each week are spent watching movies and videos, and listening to music. These media can, and often are, used to instruct, encourage, and even inspire. But when these entertainment media showcase violence - and particularly in a context which glamorizes or trivializes it - the lessons learned can be destructive.
Laval University professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise studied six major Canadian television networks over a seven-year period, examining films, situation comedies, dramatic series, and children's programming (though not cartoons). The study found that between 1993 and 2001, incidents of physical violence increased by 378 per cent. TV shows in 2001 averaged 40 acts of violence per hour.
Media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become much more graphic, much more sexual, and much more sadistic.
WHAT HAS MURDER BECOME IN TODAY'S SOCIETY?
Murder has become a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that encourages society's indifference to the seriousness of crime and violence. "Murdertainment", continues to re-victimize those who have already been affected by the murder of a loved one, often ignores the aftermath of murder and can set a poor example for our youth.
Studies have shown that children can learn to demean and destroy through overexposure to TV violent acts. By the time a child completes elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 media murders, and we wonder why children are killing and being killed. According to Paul A. Kettl, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, "Some of the material in murder comic books and murder trading cards is quite graphic and provides a real âhow-to-primer' on homicide. Through violent forms of entertainment, many children are not only desensitized to accept violence and act more violently, they are also desensitized by this material to expect the world to be a violent place.
WHAT IMPACT DOES MEDIA VIOLENCE HAVE?
The range of media violence to which children have access has grown rapidly in this generation. Take the books, newspapers, magazines, films, radio, tapes, records, and broadcast television familiar to children of the previous generation, then add dozens of cable TV channels, thousands of videos and video games, and millions of Internet sites. The result is a dense electronic bath in which children are immersed daily. This is true not only in the industrialized countries but increasingly in all societies of the world.
WHAT DOES CPOMC HOPE TO ACHIEVE?
We have a huge challenge. Our goal is to bring about awareness that will lead to the elimination of the playing and marketing of violence and murder as forms of entertainment. CPOMC will strive to instil the same empathy and respect for victims of murder that society affords victims of other tragedies. Through education, crime prevention, promotion and overall attitude, CPOMC will drive home the message that â MURDER IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT.
CPOMC strongly objects to any product, promotion, film, or print media which features any form of violence against another human being.
Secondary Victimization (A Survivor's Perspective)
"Death is not the greatest loss of life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live" - Norman Cousins
The Ultimate Tragedy
The death of any child of any age is devastating. However, the pain and anguish is compounded when the death comes at the hands of another human being. In the aftermath of murder, parents and family members face a number of very complicated issues, even as they try to make sense of the incomprehensible reality that someone knowingly, intentionally killed a child who was loved.
Complicating Issues Including Triggers
In the aftermath of murder secondary victimization raises its ugly head, often as a result of the judicial process and the media interest that goes hand in hand. Our lives are no longer private! The family unit undergoes major changes and the potential to live happily is forever transformed. As each surviving family member struggles with navigating through his or her own pain and grief, offering emotional support to the other members can be challenging and sometimes impossible. Part of the family has died along with the victim. Complicated issues are compounded by a series of episodes or "triggers" some of which are foreseen while others are not.
The National Organization of Victims Assistance (NOVA) in the U.S. suggests that many survivors will re-experience crisis reactions over a considerable period of time in response to "trigger" events which elicit similar responses to those that were brought about during the death notification. Each survivor may suffer different "triggers" such as:
- Identification of the Assailant: At the time of seeing the murderer for the first time following the murder.
- Sensing: An individual may see, hear, touch, smell or taste something similar to something that one was acutely aware of during the trauma.
- Anniversaries of the Event: The date, time and hour of a crisis situation are imprinted in long-term memory. On these dates it is not unusual to observe as severe a reaction as experienced at the occurrence.
- Holidays, and Life Events in the Family: Parents whose child has died report an overwhelming sadness at holidays, graduations and weddings of their friends' children many years later.
- Hearings, Trials, Appeals and Other Criminal Judicial Proceedings: After a number of years, the lack of acknowledgement expressed about the victim as a real person creates additional stress. The criminal judicial system is a chronic stressor.
- Media Articles about a Similar Event: Articles may draw attention like a magnet even when the person knows there will be an adverse reaction. The mind continuously seeks to comprehend the meaning of the psychological trauma. Survivors may relate exact details and similarities from television shows to one's own family reactions.
Challenges to a Survivor's Health
A 2011 review in England and Wales, entitled a "Survey of Families Bereaved by Homicide" was conducted by SAMM National (Support After Murder and Manslaughter) on behalf of The Commission for Victims and Witnesses. Again, secondary victimization was evident as all respondents stated that the bereavement had had some kind of impact on their health and that of their family â whether physical or psychological. 83% indicated that their physical health was affected. 53% of respondents reported that the hardest thing to deal with, apart from the emotional stress, were physical and psychological health issues, including symptoms commonly associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 86% reported suffering from sleep-disturbance; 83% feelings of numbness or detachment; 83% repetitive thoughts/nightmares; 76% depression; and 67% feeling constantly on guard/startled. 21% suffered other problems including uncontrollable anger, an inability to communicate, and panic attacks. 21% also reported experiencing alcohol addiction. 66% of respondents reported that they had children left bereaved by homicide and that a high proportion of the children were affected psychologically and were perceived to need professional help.
Holistic Approaches to Lessen the Impact of Secondary Victimization
The challenges that lie ahead for the families and loved ones of a murder victim are complex and unique to each individual. These challenges do not stop at the end of the trial, if indeed there is one. When a loved one is murdered all components of your physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual being are put under tremendous pressure. In the case of parents, the murder of one's child will lead to a number of psychosocial issues unparalled by any other loss. It is critical at this time to take care of you as best you can; body, mind and spirit. Becoming empowered and taking back control of your life will help you better prepare and cope with the "trigger" events which cause emotional shockwaves that can destabilize the family equilibrium. Some find that keeping their lives simple helps to relieve the stress they are under while others realize that keeping active works best. Some locate a natural setting or a calming place within their home to comfort themselves. Remember that everyone grieves differently and it is essential to do what works best for you. To associate with others who support you during this difficult, healing, journey, without being judgemental, is vital. Seeking peer support, individual or group therapy where you are free to express every emotion can be a healthy coping mechanism.
"The silent, sometimes forgotten Mourners" - Yvonne Harvey
WHEN YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER IS MURDERED
When your brother or sister is murdered, the sudden reality of the death will probably be too much for you to accept all at once. Due to the shock and confusion that murder brings, there will be no comprehension of why your brother or sister was so quickly and violently taken from you. This pain is intense and frightening. The murder of your sibling that shared your childhood creates feelings of despair, loneliness, and hopelessness.
In addition to growing up in the same family and perhaps sharing a room and toys, you shared your parents. As you both grew older, perhaps you had some of the same experiences or attended the same college or university. As adults, you may have lived near each other and your children might have played with your sibling's children. Perhaps your families went on vacations or spent holidays together. Conversely, you may not have had much in common with your sibling and grew apart as you grew older.
As a sibling you may feel that you cannot share your feelings with other members of the family, especially your parents, because you want to protect them from additional pain. As a result, you may stifle the normal expressions of mourning that are imperative to journeying through the grief process.
The murder of your sibling can create a wide range of emotions. Denial, guilt, anger, fear, intense sorrow, listlessness, loss of appetite, profound sadness, depression, extensive crying, and physical distress are some of the natural responses to grief as a result of homicide. You may feel that your parents' attention is centred on your dead sibling or they may become overly protective of you.
WHY IS YOUR GRIEF DIFFERENT?
As a sibling of a homicide victim you have your own method of grieving. Your parents have lost a child, you have lost your sibling, and the relationship is completely different. You may experience a loss of identity as self-image is inter-related with your sibling. The vast array of emotions that are necessary to deal with the immense grief of your loss may be suppressed by the powerful effect of denial. Your experience may be further complicated by the failure of others, including friends and colleagues to recognize your loss. You may be coping not only with the loss of a sibling, but also with the loss of functional parents.
SIBLING TO SIBLING
When your sibling dies, you will find the listening ears of others to be healing. While your friends, school colleagues, or co-workers might not understand what it is like to lose a sibling to homicide, others who have been through the same loss can help. The experience of being a surviving sibling will always be with you. A survivor once stated "Everyone asks me about my parents and how they are doing, but nobody ever thinks to ask me how I am doing". Hopefully, by expressing your feelings you can change that.
Grief does not just go away with time; you have to work through it. Seek out those who understand. Acknowledge that others may not be able to handle dealing with the murder of their sibling either.
The positive and healing approach:
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to connect with a person or group with whom you can talk freely, and who are travelling on the same path of healing. Canadian Parents of Murdered Children and Survivors of Homicide Victims, provides an Interactive Topic Forum on its website, where you can do just that. This forum can connect you to other sibling survivors across Canada, who understand your grief, and share the deep loss you feel.
The negative and destructive approach:
Avoid the temptation to self-medicate your feelings and emotions with the use of drugs, alcohol or any mood altering substance, or destructive behaviour that will only add to the grief you already feel. At some point, you will have to face the reality of this horrific event. Take the time to think about what you need to help you through this challenging time. The need to express you grief in a positive manner is imperative to getting to a better place than you are in today.
Finally, realize that the deep loss you feel is a reflection of the love you have for the sibling you have lost. Your grief and the expression of it are important. Don't silence your grief.
Stop Blaming the Victim
"Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Gandhi
Why Do People Blame Victims
Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment are held responsible or partially responsible for the indiscretions committed against them.
Cruelly this term is applied, in some instances, to murder victims. Murder victims may be blamed by members of the legal profession, health profession, the media, family members, close acquaintances and unwitting members of society. Some murder victims receive more sympathy from society than other murder victims e.g. children, victims of an act of terrorism and mentally or physically disabled individuals. While others murder victims, such as prostitutes, drug addicts and individuals with a sexual persuasion other than heterosexual, are more likely to be accused of "asking for it" because of misconceptions surrounding those individuals and their actions.
The two main concepts behind victim blame are the Just World Hypothesis and the Invulnerability Theory. The Just World Hypothesis suggests that we live in a just world where everyone gets what he or she deserves and deserves what he or she gets. For example the victim contributed to his or her demise. In the case of murder, this concept overlooks the murder as an injustice and reinterprets it as a consequence of one's lifestyle or action. In the Invulnerability Theory blaming the victim is a way of distancing oneself from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirming one's own invulnerability. Blaming the victim most often arises from the need to deny that we ourselves could be vulnerable. In order to avoid confronting our own dread of powerlessness, we assume that the victim had the ability to prevent what happened. Since they did not, we are wiser, stronger, more together and more fortunate than they are, and so what happened to them would never happen to us. This gives us a sense of control over our lives. We can then become arrogant and judgemental, feeling superior to the victim. Tragically, these assumptions are psychologically shattering to survivors of homicide victims. Self-righteousness and narrow mindedness does not make us unlikely or invulnerable to becoming a victim. In actual fact, we live in a world in which bad things can and do happen to good people. Denial of this only serves to re-victimize and augment the pain and grief of the already suffering survivor.
Some cultures practice so called "honour killings", carried out in the name of protecting or preserving family honour. In these instances victims are blamed for bringing dishonour upon the family or community. These murders are not just confined to Middle Eastern countries. Canada as well has experienced a number of these horrific slayings.
According to the United Nations there are 5,000 instances annually of women and girls being shot, stoned, burned, poisoned, buried alive, strangled, smothered or knifed to death by family members.
Another term closely associated with victim blaming is victim facilitation, which was coined by criminologist Marvin Wolfgang among others. Victim facilitation implies that one is not blaming the victim; however, it does suggest that the victim made himself or herself more available or susceptible to an attack. This can be attributed to a number of factors such as a person's lifestyle (example the amount of time he or she spent interacting with strangers); a victim's location at the time of or prior to the murder (example a bar); the clothing the person was wearing (example something âprovocative'); the victim's excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
The Impact on Family Members of Murder Victims
When someone is murdered, the death is often sudden, violent, final and incomprehensible. The survivors' world is abruptly and forever changed. Life has suddenly lost meaning and many survivors report that they cannot imagine ever being happy again. Add to this society's thoughtlessness by blaming the victim and you can well imagine the sickening impact it has on surviving family members. For example, defence lawyers will resort to implying that a murder victim's disreputable or careless lifestyle contributed to his or her demise. While reporters and news media can be acutely persistent in their endeavours to obtain "the story" they may print inaccurate information or appear to blame the victim, which not only re-victimizes the family, but can have devastating effects on their emotions, mental and physical well-being.
Put the Blame Where it Rightly Belongs
Particularly in the case of homicide, it is critically important to shift any notion of blame from the victim to the perpetrator where it rightly belongs. Survivors of homicide victims have suffered enough as a result of the violent act against their loved one in addition to being subjected to various forms of re-victimization. Of all the instances of victim blaming, media coverage can be the most damaging because it is instantaneous and has the ability to influence a broad segment of society. Preoccupation with the accused and the horrific details of the offence can romanticize the crime and the murderer and can make "the story" one-dimensional which is an injustice and disservice to our society.
WHEN YOUR ONLY CHILD IS MURDERED
"A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But...there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that's how awful the loss is!" - Neugeboren 1976, 154
WHEN YOUR ONLY CHILD IS MURDERED â (Are you still a parent?)
To have one's child murdered is the ultimate tragedy in life. What word do we use for a parent whose child has been murdered? There is no word that I know of, to express that kind of pain. It is the most intense grief known. Parents feel that a vital and core part of them has been ripped away.
When your only child has been murdered, your grief is unique. You no longer have someone in whom you can invest your love and energy. You become fearful of the unknown future. You question, "Am I still a parent". Yes, you will always be a mother or father to your deceased child.
If you are a single parent, widow, or widower, you may be facing the grief alone. Life as you knew it feels shattered, and you may believe that you will never be able to pick up the pieces and continue on. The feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear and sadness are all normal. How could you possibly feel anything else?
HOW THE LOSS OF AN ONLY CHILD CAN AFFECT YOUR HEALTH
During the first few months of your loss, you may need to have a physical check-up. If you have pre-existing health problems they can worsen due to the stress, and your immune system may be compromised, thereby making you more vulnerable to illness. Sleep deprivation is frequently experienced during this time. Drugs and alcohol can be tempting to someone who is trying to avoid emotions and delay the grieving process. This only compounds the pain. At some point one will have to face the feelings, in addition to any problems the drugs or alcohol may create. It is important to have a continual and open dialogue with your doctor.
HOW DO YOU REINVEST IN LIFE?
Embrace the love and memories of your child. Nothing can take your memories. As time passes, and it does, try to channel the love that you shared with your child in directions that will bring you peace, serenity and eventually a form of healing that gives you a sense of hope for the future.
As a bereaved parent of a murdered child, you desperately need a listener who is accepting, supportive and willing to listen patiently to stories that are often repetitive. Repeating stories and memories of your child is therapeutic. Each time the story is told, the finality and the reality of your loss sinks in a little more.
Seeking professional counselling, religious or spiritual guidance is helpful depending on your needs and beliefs. Some people find the experience of another person who has been through a similar situation invaluable. Try to find a peer support group, where you can share your loss with others. This can be immensely powerful and healing. Being able to share your feelings and grief in a safe environment where only others who have had the same experience can provide support and tremendous growth as you work through your feelings and grief. Reinvest in life by carrying the beautiful and meaningful memories of your child with you every day. Instead of fearing special occasions, embrace them by doing things to commemorate his or her life. It is understandable that you may think no one can comprehend your suffering and it would be true to say that no one can fully appreciate YOUR pain â it is unique to your own experience.
DOES GRIEVING EVER END?
As time goes on, you will very slowly move through a journey like no other. Waves of emotions may sweep in and out, just when you least expect it. One can never guess when an emotional button might be pushed, and we shouldn't try to avoid them, they are part of the journey. You are suddenly childless; but, YOU ARE STILL A PARENT. The focus of your life has changed, and finding new focus is the most difficult challenge that you will probably ever face, but do not lose hope. It is achievable.
Parents who have lost their only child to homicide come to learn that, "memories are the precious gifts of the heart...[that they need] these memories and whispers, to help create a sense of inner peace, a closeness" (Wisconsin Perspectives Newsletter, Spring 1989, 1).
CPOMC GLOSSARY RE: HOMICIDE
The following is a list of commonly used legal terms in homicide cases. This list is not exhaustive and the definitions summarize the terms. They are for general information only.
Acquittal: a finding of not guilty. This is not the same as being found innocent. An acquittal means the Crown did not meet the burden of proof for the jury or judge to find the accused guilty.
Adjournment: a temporary delay of court proceedings.
Agreed Statement of Facts: an agreement between the Crown and defence as to what happened. It may not be an accurate reflection, from the victim's point of view, but it reflects what the Crown believes it can prove and what the defence is willing to admit to.
Appeal: is a process where either the Crown or the defence ask a higher court to change a lower court's decision or take a second look at a particular decision. A sentence can be appealed, a guilty verdict can be appealed and in limited circumstances, an acquittal can be appealed.
Bail hearing: a hearing held by a judge to decide if a person should be released from jail before a trial. Because an accused person is innocent until proven guilty, he/she will not automatically be held in custody prior to the trial. A judge will consider the risk to the public/victim and the risk that the accused may flee.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: is the standard of proof required to convict someone in a criminal trial. It is the Crown's obligation to prove the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused does not have to prove his/her innocence. The requirement of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt recognizes that a judge or jury may not be 100% sure of guilt; that they may have some small doubt.
Change of Venue: generally, cases are tried in the community courthouse nearest to where the offence took place. A change of venue is where the case has been moved to another courthouse in another place. Such requests are rare and usually limited to high-profile cases that may make it difficult to find a jury of people who have not been influenced by media coverage of the case.
Conditional release: programs such as day parole, full parole and statutory release that provide an offender with a period of supervised transition from prison to the community. Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) all offenders must be considered for some form of conditional release during their sentence. Types of release include temporary absences (escorted and unescorted), day parole and full parole.
Conviction: when a person is found guilty of an offence.
Crown Prosecutor: a government lawyer who conducts criminal cases, sometimes called a Crown Attorney. In the US, they call prosecutors District Attorneys or DAs.
Defence lawyer: a lawyer who represents an accused person.
Homicide: the taking of a life. Culpable homicide is murder or manslaughter. Non-culpable homicide is not an offence.
Judicial review hearing: more commonly known as the faint-hope clause allows convicted murderers with parole ineligibility periods of over 15 years to apply for a reduction in the number of years they must serve in prison before being able to apply for parole. An application can be made after they have served 15 years of their sentence. Multiple killers are not eligible to apply for such hearings and recent amendments mean future murderers will not be able to apply.
First Degree Murder: is the most serious type of murder and is planned and deliberate. It also includes (but is not limited to) the murder of a police officer, murders that take place during the commission of another criminal act, such as a sexual assault or criminal harassment or is linked to organized crime or an act of terrorism. First degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without eligibility for day parole for 22 years and full parole for 25 years (from the date of arrest).
Life sentence: is an indeterminate sentence in which the offender remains in prison or on parole for the rest of his/her life.
Manslaughter: a homicide is manslaughter if the person who committed it did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation. A maximum sentence for manslaughter is life but there is no minimum. A life sentence for manslaughter is different than for first or second degree murder in that the offender can apply for parole after seven years.
Parole: a discretionary type of conditional release that allows an offender to serve some of their sentence out of prison under supervision.
Parole Ineligibility Period: is the period for which an offender must wait before he/she can apply for parole.
Plea-Bargaining: when Crown and defence come to an agreement regarding a guilty plea and/or a sentence. The guilty plea usually comes in exchange for a benefit such as a reduction of the charge against the accused or where the two sides agree upon a sentence. An example is where the accused is charged with first degree murder but agrees to plead guilty to second degree murder. A Crown may enter into plea negotiations because of concerns about evidence, reliability of evidence, strength of the case, etc.
Preliminary hearing: like a mini-trial where a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to hold an accused person for trial.
Registered victim: a victim who has registered with either the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) or the National Parole Board (NPB) to receive information about the offender who harmed them.
Second degree murder: any murder that is not first degree.
Sentencing Hearing: a hearing before the Judge where the sentence is decided.
Verdict: a verdict is the finding of guilt or innocence.
Victim Impact Statement: A victim impact statement is a written account of the personal harm suffered by a victim of crime. The statement may include a description of the physical, financial and emotional effects of the crime. Where a victim impact statement has been prepared, it must be taken into consideration by the sentencing judge. Victims have a right to present an impact statement at sentencing, judicial review hearings and parole hearings.
Voir dire: is a hearing, held without the presence of the jury, to discuss a question of law or determine whether a piece of evidence will be allowed.
A SNAPSHOT OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The criminal justice system is a confusing and complicated process, especially for victims of crime. For many people, their only experience with the criminal justice system is as a victim of crime. This guide is meant to be a snapshot of that process to give you an idea of how it works and what to expect. It is not intended to be a legal guide. You should establish a relationship with the police, victim services and/or the Crown to ensure you have all available information and know where to get your questions answered.
The process can be broken down into a few key elements â the investigation, the prosecution, the sentencing and prison/parole. There are three important things to remember in this complex journey. The first is that prior to a finding of guilt, the person charged with the murder (the accused) is presumed to be innocent. At times, it may feel like an inordinate amount of attention is being paid to the accused and his/her rights. It may seem like so much more care and attention is being paid to his/her rights than to you or your family. This is not just your perception. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that an accused person has the right to be presumed innocent and has a right to a fair trial. While you may not agree with every decision made or understand them all, keep in mind that many decisions are made because of these guaranteed rights.
The second element is difficult for many victims to understand and it is that the criminal justice process is not necessarily a search for the truth. At best, it is a qualified search for the truth. The evidence presented at court or put before a judge/jury may not be the complete story as you know it or believe it to be. Evidence that you think is important may not be allowed for complex legal reasons. A trial is not necessarily about what has happened, but what can be proved given legal constraints.
The final thing is not about the law, but about you. The criminal justice process can be a long and difficult for families. It may take years. Some expect that when the trial is over, they will have closure or a sense of closure. This is not always the case. For some, the conclusion of a trial may be an important part of their healing journey. For others, it does very little to address their needs or their questions. Everyone is different but try not to place too many expectations on the trial process and its role in your healing.
Once a death has been ruled a homicide, the police will begin their investigation. Since most people are killed by someone they know, most homicides are solved and suspects are identified relatively quickly. In some types of murder, like gang related killings or stranger crimes, investigations are more difficult and may take longer to identify a suspect; some may never be solved.
Once a suspect is arrested and charged, he/she may apply for bail. A hearing will be held where a judge decides whether to release the accused person before the case is dealt with in court. The Crown and defence will summarize the evidence against the accused and the judge will decide whether the accused can be released into the community or keep him/her in custody. The judge will consider a variety of factors including whether the accused person has a criminal record, the seriousness of the charge, whether it involves any violence, etc. The judge must consider the safety or security of the public and the risk of the accused fleeing.
The investigation continues even after a suspect has been arrested and charged. The detectives will continue to collect evidence, interview witnesses, etc. until the case goes to trial. They will work closely with the Crown to build a strong case. While it may not seem like anything is happening because you do not see the work the detectives are doing, it takes many hours and resources to build a strong case.
Before the trial, there may be a preliminary inquiry. The purpose of this hearing, which is like a trial, is for the court to decide if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial. At the preliminary hearing, the Crown will present evidence, calls witnesses, etc. to show there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. The defence will try to question the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses but he/she is not obligated to present any evidence. If the judge finds that there is not enough evidence to send the case to trial, he/she she will dismiss the charge. If the judge finds that there is enough evidence to justify a trial, the judge commits the accused person to trial and, if the accused pleads not guilty, sets a trial date.
At trial, the burden of proof is on the Crown. He/she must prove the accused it guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defence is not obligated to prove innocence and is not obligated to call any evidence or witnesses. The accused has the right to remain silent and does not have to testify. In fact, many accused will not testify.
If you are a witness, you may not be able to listen to other witnesses' testimony to ensure your evidence is not influenced by what you hear someone else say. This is an issue you should discuss with the Crown.
The Crown presents his/her case first and will call witnesses and present evidence and arguments to support their case. Some of the witnesses may have testified at the preliminary inquiry. Both sides have the right to cross examine each other's witnesses and will test the truth or accuracy of the witness testimony. After all witnesses have been called, both the Crown prosecutor and the defence lawyer present their closing arguments. The jury, or the judge, will then decide on whether the accused is guilty of the charges or possibly a lesser offence.
If the Crown has proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused has been found guilty or if the accused has pled guilty, the judge will decide on an appropriate sentence. The sentencing will not likely take place immediately and another hearing will be held. If the offender has been convicted of or pled guilty to first degree murder, the judge has no discretion regarding the sentence and must impose a sentence of life without parole for twenty-five years. If the offender has been convicted of or pled guilty to second degree murder, the judge must impose a life sentence without parole for a period between 10 and 25 years. If the offender has been convicted of or pled guilty to manslaughter, the judge has complete discretion to impose any sentence up to life.
At sentencing, victims have the right to present a victim impact statement to explain to the court the impact the crime has had on them. The Criminal Code requires the court to consider a victim impact statement before sentencing an offender. The statement must be done in writing and provided to the Crown and a copy will be given to the defence. You may read the statement in court at the sentencing hearing or prepare a video-audio tape.
An appeal takes place when one side wants to question a decision of the court to make sure the courts has not made a mistake applying the law. A Crown may appeal an acquittal or a sentence. An offender may appeal a conviction or ask an appeal court to decrease the sentence. Appeal courts are concerned with questions of law, not evidence. Witnesses are rarely required to testify. This process can take years.
If the offender is convicted of murder or manslaughter and given a sentence of more than two years, he/she will go to a federal prison. The Correctional Service of Canada is responsible for offenders with a sentence of two years or more. Victims have the right to information about offenders serving sentences but information is not automatically sent; victims must request this information (i.e. what prison the offender is in, when his parole dates are, etc.).
Parole allows some offenders to serve a portion of their sentence under supervision in the community. If the offender was convicted of first degree murder, he/she must wait 25 years to apply for full parole and 22 years to apply for day parole (from the date of arrest, not conviction). In the case of second degree murder, the offender will have to wait for the number of years the judge ordered (between 10 and 25 years) but can apply for day parole three years before that (from date of arrest). In the case of manslaughter, the sentence can be anything up to life imprisonment. If the offender receives a sentence of nine years (as an example), he/she may be able to apply for parole as early as 3 years (1/3 of the sentence) and will be eligible for statutory release after 6 years (2/3 of the sentence). If the sentence is life, the offender will be eligible for full parole after 7 years. If anyone with a life sentence does get parole, he/she remains on parole for the rest of their lives.
Parole Board of Canada hearings are normally held in the prison where the offender is. You may attend a parole hearing and present a victim impact statement (orally, in writing or on tape). The offender will receive a copy of your statement prior to the hearing. You may also receive financial assistance to attend the hearing.