Victim/Witness Assistance Program
Helping Ontario Victims and Witnesses for 20 Years
Being involved with the criminal justice system can be confusing and frightening. If you are a victim or witness of violent crime, and criminal charges have been laid, the Victim/Witness Assistance Program offers advice, compassion, information and support.
The Victim/Witness Assistance Program was established by the Ministry of the Attorney General in 1987. It is offered in all 54 Ontario court districts. To find the office nearest you, visit the ministry's website at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca or call the Victim Support Line, at 416-314-2447 in Toronto, or toll free at 1 (888) 579-2888.
Who can receive help?
The Victim/Witness Assistance Program can accept clients once charges are laid. The program helps the most vulnerable victims and witnesses of violent crime, including domestic violence, sexual assault, physical or sexual child assault, hate crimes and families of homicide victims.
How much does it cost?
The services are free of charge across Ontario. They are offered on a voluntary basis.
How do I receive help?
Police or Crown attorneys refer victims and witnesses to the program once charges have been laid. If you are a victim of violent crime, staff will try to contact you as soon as possible, to offer support and to respond quickly to any safety concerns. You will be invited to an appointment to learn about other services that are offered.
What kind of help is available?
The kind of help you may receive depends upon the type of case in which you are involved and an assessment of your needs.
Here are some of the services offered by the Victim/Witness Assistance Program:
- Emotional support
Before they can even start to prepare for the judicial process, many victims and witnesses need emotional support to overcome immediate trauma. The Victim/Witness Assistance Program is there to help. Staff will provide you with ongoing emotional support and assistance throughout the criminal court process.
- Needs assessment
Some victims aren't sure what help will benefit them most. Staff members assess your needs to determine how best to help. Especially in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse, personal safety can be a major concern. The development of a safety plan is often part of the service.
- Referrals to community agencies
Victims and witnesses may need help that is not provided by the Victim/Witness Assistance Program. If another agency or organization - or your doctor or community health facility - can provide some of the help you need, you will be referred to the right place in your community.
Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff will help you understand how the court system works, keep you informed of court dates and explain courtroom procedures. Also, staff can provide you with copies of court papers, such as bail conditions and probation orders.
- Getting ready for court
Program staff will help you prepare for court. They will discuss your questions and concerns, help you understand what to expect if you'll be testifying and explain legal terms you may not understand.
You will be offered an advance tour of a courtroom. Here you can see first-hand where the judge and lawyers sit and the place where you, as a witness, will speak.
- Waiting areas
If available in the courthouse, program staff will take you to a separate, safe waiting area for victims and witnesses.
- Help with victim impact statements
Victim impact statements let the judge, Crown attorney, defence lawyer and the accused know how you were affected by the crime. Program staff will explain the victim impact statement and offer you information on how to complete it.
- Help in other languages
Program staff will arrange for language interpreters if you need it.
What the program can't do
The program staff works closely with the police and the Crown attorney and can set up appointments for the Crown attorney to meet with the victim. But the staff is not able to discuss evidence with victims and witnesses.
Also, child care cannot be provided or arranged by staff. Please make arrangements for child care for the time you are required to be in court.
Help for kids
If your child is six to 12 years old, and a victim or witness who must go to court, the program will provide a free child-friendly information and activity book to help him or her understand the process. To obtain a copy of the activity book "What's My Job in Court?", call your local Victim/Witness Assistance Program office or write to this address:
Ministry of the Attorney General
Ontario Victim Services Secretariat
Victim/Witness Assistance Program
18 King Street East, 7th Floor