The federal government plans to introduce a victims' bill of rights and tougher sentences for those convicted of abusing children, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Monday.

Nicholson held a news conference in Toronto to outline the government's priorities for the year ahead, alongside OPP Deputy Commission Vince Hawkes and former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused as a boy and has become an advocate for victims of abuse.

Nicholson said the government plans to introduce legislation to crack down on criminals who target children, in particular those who re-offend while already on parole for previous offences.

"We also know sexual predators rarely hurt just one victim ... our criminal justice system must reflect the reality of victimization when it comes to this type of abuse," Nicholson said. "We intend to remedy the situation and ensure sentencing takes into account each young life that's been devastated by a sexual predator."

Nicholson had few details about the legislation the government plans to bring forward. He said a bill of rights will ensure victims have a greater voice in the justice system and that their rights will be "entrenched into a single law at the federal level."

The government will also raise victim surcharges for those convicted of crimes, and ensure that victims have recourse to be compensated for their losses.

The victims’ bill of rights will place all components of federal legislation concerning victims into one comprehensive, easy-to-access piece of legislation, Nicholson said on CTV’s Power Play Monday.

“We want victims to be first, we want them to know that their interests will be protected by this government,” he said.

The government has been holding round table discussions with Kennedy and other survivors of sexual abuse to develop a strategy that goes beyond simply establishing harsher sentences for those convicted of child abuse.

"What I really like is the focus on victims. I think that's key, and when we look at this type of crime we catch some child sex perpetrators but I think it's paramount we take care of the victims of these perpetrators," Kennedy said.

Nicholson said the government also plans to introduce legislation to protect the public from those found not criminally responsible for violent crimes due to mental disorder, saying public safety must be the "paramount" concern when dealing with such individuals.

University of Ottawa criminologist Michael Kempa said Monday’s announcement appeared to be a “continuation of a long-running strategy” by the Conservative party to shift the emphasis on crime control toward sentencing, reducing judicial discretion, and mandatory minimums.

While a focus on victims support and protection of the public seems like a step in the right direction, Kempa said the best way to protect the public is also treatment for those suffering from mental illness who may also pose a danger.

“This is a big problem for police officers these days,” he said. “They’ll tell you that they’re spending more and more of their time dealing with people who are just not being given proper treatment in mental health facilities.”

He added: “If you say someone’s dangerous and therefore ought not to be let loose in the public, the solution probably isn’t just to therefore keep them incarcerated for a longer period of time,” Kempa said on Power Play. “Obviously, some form of treatment of the disease is what’s required.”

Kempa said tackling violent crimes against children does not simply require a judicial change but also a cultural shift in society where families can come forward and deal with children’ complaints.

“I’m not sure if changing the sentences of predators is a part of helping that culture change, it’s about encouraging people to come forward to begin with,” Kempa said.

The government will also look at the following issues in the year ahead:

• Making the bail system more effective and efficient;

• Using new technologies in the justice system;

• Making it easier and faster to extradite criminals.