Before Jennifer Neville-Lake lost her three children and father in an impaired driving crash, she never would have imagined her path would lead to Rodney Stafford and Lisa Freeman.
“You hope that you will never become a victim of crime, but the reality is it can happen to anybody,” she said.
All three are part of a club no one wants or chooses to join.
“This is not something I brought on myself. This is something that happened to me,” said Freeman.
As they point out, anyone can be added to the group at any time.
It is for that very reason, Neville-Lake, Freeman and Stafford are fighting for all victims’ rights.
“We just get to to live with the pain and the trauma … we’re all told, ‘deal with it’,” said Stafford.
In their own way, each has experienced horror.
Freeman’s father Roland Slingerland was bludgeoned to death with an axe in 1991.
Stafford’s daughter Tori was abducted, raped and brutally murdered in 2009.
The Neville-Lake children, Daniel, Harry and Milly, along with their grandfather Gary Neville, were killed by a drunk driver in 2015.
“This is something I can do to make sure that as best as I’m able to, I’m able to help contribute to making it a little bit easier for the people who come after me, who are in their worst times,” said Neville-Lake.
She has launched a petition, that nearly 1500 people have signed so far, asking for a review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
Enacted in July 2015 the federal Victims Bill of Rights outlined the rights of victims of crime in Canada, requiring that those rights be considered during each step of the criminal justice system.
“I think the rights themselves are fine, each on their own, information, participation, protection, restitution. But for now they’re just words on paper. There needs to be something behind it, something to strengthen it … some backbone and real consequences if these rights aren’t upheld. There’s nothing like that,” explained Freeman.
She added, “Somebody needs to take care of me and my needs. It’s not happening. It’s never happened. Never. So the time has come for it to happen … it’s all just an illusion of what you think you may have until you go to try to enforce it.”
All three, who have become victims’ rights advocates by default, argue the onus is on them to constantly advocate for themselves.
“This is supposed to make it easier so that from coast-to-coast, we know that we got certain things. We’re entitled to get certain things,” said Neville-Lake.
“There’s a plan for the offender, but there’s no plan for the victim,” said Stafford. “You get told, ‘OK, well, here’s a little bit of money for counseling, good luck’ and that’s basically it. You have no right. No fight to nothing … The offenders get into the correctional system and Correctional Service Canada says, ‘Well, you know what? Well, now we’re going to help you get back on the streets a lot quicker and we’re going to better your life before we put you out there’ and victims don’t have a lot of rights and things need to change.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the hope is for an immediate review, as was promised when the bill was first enacted. There was a stipulation that a committee would be formed in 2020 for that very purpose.
“Obviously, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Nothing has really been started on it. However, the government is still introducing bills. They’re still looking at things. So what we’re asking them to do is to start the review process,” said Neville-Lake.
“Look what happened to Jennifer. Look what happened to Rodney. These are people who are behind the headlines trying to make a difference … and I’ve always said, what I’m doing is just helping to make that path a little bit easier for those who are unlucky enough to follow,” said Freeman.
A spokesman for the federal Justice Department said launching a review of the bill is the independent responsibility of Parliament.
“The government of Canada is committed to implementing and strengthening victims’ rights and continues to work collaboratively with other governments across the country that share responsibility for addressing and meeting the needs of victims and survivors of crime in the criminal justice system,” Ian McLeod said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
—With files from The Canadian Press