An apology is one means by which an offender can demonstrate his/her remorse and take personal responsibility for wrongdoing. The capacity of human beings who have erred to recognize the magnitude of their wrongdoing, and to redeem themselves, offers perhaps the best hope that those who have committed crimes will not repeat them.
Sincere apologies have significance, not only for courts (as they provide at least some assurance of the redirection of the offender) but also for some victims.
Before determining the sentence to be imposed, the sentencing court is required to ask whether the offender has anything to say (section 726, Criminal Code). If the offender takes this opportunity to acknowledge responsibility and apologize to his victim, he will usually find himself apologizing at a time when the victim is not physically present in court to hear the apology.
In the age of the internet, an offender who wishes to make a written apology to a victim of his crime now takes a risk that the victim may post that apology on the internet. Though that risk may be low, and one should not presume that a victim of a crime will broadcast a written apology across the internet, there is nothing stopping a victim from doing so, per se.
Information put online can have unknown permanence. An offender, particularly a young offender, should be entitled to closure at some point in time. Further, the risk of internet exposure can be a disincentive to conveying an apology.
Written Apologies and Probation Orders
Where the offender is subject to a probation order, one novel way of addressing these challenges is by the inclusion of a condition such as the following:
“That the offender prepare a letter of apology to the complainant, and that this letter be provided to the probation officer who will read it to the complainant, if the complainant so desires. The letter itself is not to be provided to the complainant.” [FN]
If the probation order also includes a condition that there be no contact between the offender and the complainant, the sentencing court should also include a specific exception to the non-contact requirement for the purposes of allowing the probation officer to read the complainant the apology, as the reading of the apology constitutes a form of indirect communication between the offender and the complainant.
[FN] The probation office should be consulted in advance to assure their willingness and ability to supervise this condition, as a probation order compels the offender to comply with its conditions, not the probation office.