Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada : Summary of Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents

3. Findings from Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents (continued)


3. Findings from Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents (continued)

3.15 Restorative Justice

In recent years, restorative justice approaches have become more widely used at all stages of criminal proceedings. Restorative justice considers the wrong done the person as well as the wrong done to the community. Restorative justice programs involve the victim(s) or a representative, the offender(s), and community representatives. The offender is required to accept responsibility for the crime and take steps to repair the harm he or she has caused. In this way restorative approaches can restore peace and equilibrium within a community and can afford victims of crime greater opportunities to participate actively in decision-making. However, concerns have been raised about victim participation and voluntary consent, and support to victims in a restorative process. This study included several exploratory questions to discover the extent to which criminal justice professionals have participated in restorative justice approaches and their views on the appropriateness and effectiveness of these approaches.

Participation in Restorative Justice Approaches

Respondents reported having been involved in various restorative approaches (Table 23), including sentencing and healing circles, diversion, mediation, and community and youth justice forums.

TABLE 23: HAVE YOU EVER PARTICIPATED IN A RESTORATIVE JUSTICE APPROACH?

As Table 24, below, illustrates, victim services providers and victim advocacy groups (as well as police) are more likely to have participated prior to charges being laid.

TABLE 24: AT WHAT STAGE IN THE PROCESS HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE? BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROCESSES.
  Victim Services (n=38) Crown Attorney (n=81) Defence Counsel (n=107) Police (n=118) Advocacy Groups (n=17)
Pre-charge 42% 52% 64% 74% 47%
Sentencing 37% 61% 66% 25% 29%
Post-charge, pre-sentencing 8% 32% 19% -- 24%
Other 18% 6% 8% 20% 29%
No response 16% 6% 2% 1% --

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; totals sum to more than 100%.

Table 25 below shows the most common explanations for respondents' lack of involvement in restorative justice. Across all respondent groups except victim services, the most common reason is that restorative approaches are not available or not yet widely used in their province.

Certain respondent groups gave other reasons for their non-participation in restorative justice, which do not appear in the table below. For example, 13% of both victim services providers and victim advocacy group respondents reported that restorative justice is not part of their agency's mandate, while 11% of victim services providers reported that it is not part of their job responsibility to become involved in restorative processes. Ten percent of victim services providers said that restorative justice is not an appropriate or viable option in the cases they deal with.

TABLE 25: WHY HAVE YOU NOT USED OR PARTICIPATED IN A RESTORATIVE JUSTICE APPROACH? BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO HAVE NOT PARTICIPATED IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROCESSES.

Victim Involvement in Restorative Justice

There was disagreement both within and across the survey respondent categories on the extent to which victims are involved in the decision to use restorative justice approaches, as Table 26 demonstrates. Victim services providers more often believe that the victim is only sometimes consulted, while victim advocacy groups more often think that consultation with the victim does indeed always take place.

TABLE 26: WHAT BEST DESCRIBES THE VICTIM'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE DECISION TO USE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE? BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROCESSES.
  Victim Services (n=38) Crown Attorneys (n=81) Defence Counsel (n=107) Police (n=118) Advocacy Groups (n=17)
Victim is always involved 32% 52% 44% 80% 59%
Victim is sometimes involved 45% 38% 43% 14% 24%
Victim is seldom involved 8% 5% 9% 6% 12%
No response 16% 5% 4% -- 6%

Note: Some columns do not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Cases where Restorative Justice would be most Effective

Victim services providers were asked to comment in interviews on when they believe that restorative justice approaches would be most effective. There was substantial agreement that such processes would be particularly effective in cases involving young offenders, first offenders, and minor property offences. However, the effectiveness of restorative approaches in dealing with crimes of violence was much debated by interviewees. Generally speaking, although respondents agreed that restorative approaches should not be used for sexual assaults, child abuse, and other violent offences, several respondents think that some minor assault cases could potentially qualify. In addition, interviewees disagreed over whether restorative justice is a suitable way of dealing with spousal violence, given the family and power dynamics involved in these cases.

Protection of Victim Safety

Victim services providers were asked in interviews about the importance of consulting the victim in the use of a restorative justice approach. Almost all respondents believe that such consultation is indeed important. There was widespread agreement that in order for restorative justice to adequately address victims' needs, victims should consent to and participate in the process, and that there is less chance of success if such consultation does not occur. However, several interviewees reiterated that the decision to proceed with a restorative approach is not the victim's alone to make and does not require the victim's permission, since the offence and the restorative process do not affect only the victim, but rather the whole community. [5]

At the same time, victim services providers expressed concern in interviews that restorative justice may not always adequately protect victims and address their interests. This concern, as already noted in Table 25 above, was also evident from the quantitative data, which showed that 10% of victim services gave inadequate protection of the victim as the reason they had not participated in a restorative approach. In interviews victim services providers reiterated that restorative justice should not be used for violent offences where there are real safety concerns or power imbalances between victim and accused because of the potential for victims in such cases to be pressured or intimidated into participating. From the perspective of these interviewees, the ability of restorative approaches to adequately protect victims depends on the structure of individual programs, on the existence of a proper support structure to guarantee victim safety, and on the facilitator's training.

3.16 Level of Awareness about the Criminal Code Provisions Intended to Benefit Victims of Crime

As shown in Table 27, there is considerable discrepancy among the proportion of victim services providers, Crown Attorneys, defence counsel, and police surveyed who believe that they are adequately informed of the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims. 32% of victim services providers believe they are adequately informed.

TABLE 27: ARE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROFESSIONALS ADEQUATELY INFORMED OF PROVISIONS TO BENEFIT VICTIMS?
  Victim Services (N=318) Crown Attorneys (N=188) Defence Counsel (N=185) Police (N=686)
Yes 32% 71% 40% 40%
No 40% 20% 49% 46%
Don't know 25% 9% 11% 13%
No response 3% 1% 1% 1%

Note: Some columns to sum to more than 100% due to rounding.

Among victim services providers who think that they are inadequately informed of the Criminal Code provisions designed to benefit victims, the most commonly proposed suggestion - mentioned by two-thirds of respondents - was increased training opportunities. In interviews, victim services providers expressed a preference for seminars and workshops where they can actively participate in discussions and ask questions. Several victim services providers observed in interviews that training is generally not a priority due to lack of human and financial resources. For this reason, they would like to see additional written materials sent to them so they could learn about the provisions on their own time. In fact, increased circulation of booklets, manuals, newsletters, and other print materials was the second most common suggestion for improving victim services providers' knowledge of the relevant provisions. In interviews, a few victim services providers said that the federal Department of Justice should take on a more active role in informing victim services workers of the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims by providing regular updates and funding training sessions.

3.17 Impact of Criminal Code Provisions

All respondent groups, except for probation and parole, were asked what, in their opinion, has been accomplished by the Criminal Code provisions intended to benefit victims. Respondents identified numerous outcomes that they believe have resulted from the Criminal Code provisions. However, a large proportion of each respondent group did not answer the question. Victim services providers, particularly, noted on the questionnaire that they did not know enough about the Criminal Code provisions to comment. In total, about half of victim services providers and police, one-third of victim advocacy groups, and a quarter of judges, Crown Attorneys, and defence counsel did not answer this question.

A small number of victim services providers (one-tenth) and advocacy group respondents (fewer than one-tenth) who were asked about the impact of the provisions said that they have provided a more balanced criminal justice system (see Table 28). In interviews, victim services providers said that the rights of victims have been formally recognized within the criminal justice system through the Criminal Code provisions and that, as a result, there is greater awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of victims on the part of judges and prosecutors. The increased profile of the victim within the system, in turn, has led to enhanced services for victims, a more approachable and personal system that responds better to victims' needs, and victims who are more informed about the criminal justice process and the status of their own case.

Regarding victim impact statements, victim services providers, in interviews, stated that the number of victims submitting victim impact statements is increasing and that the option of reading the victim impact statement is a very positive development. A few of those surveyed mentioned negative effects of victim impact statements stemming from the disclosure to defence counsel and possibilities of cross-examination of victims on their statements.

Some victim services providers also believe that victims are now more satisfied with the criminal justice system. In the survey, 11% of victim services providers listed this as an impact of the Criminal Code provisions.

TABLE 28: WHAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED BY THE CRIMINAL CODE PROVISIONS INTENDED TO BENEFIT ' VICTIMS?

On the other hand, some victim services providers and advocacy group respondents said they believe that the Criminal Code provisions have accomplished little or nothing. Victim advocacy groups and victim services providers cited this concern (see Table 29). In interviews, victim services providers explain this lack of progress. They believe that victims remain largely uninformed of their rights and options within the criminal justice system, which continues to be mainly offender-focused, and that victims are not as involved as they should be. According to these respondents, victims continue to be traumatized by their experience within the criminal justice system and therefore continue to see the system in a negative light. Results are given in Table 29.

TABLE 29: HAVE THERE BEEN ANY UNINTENDED OR UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES TO THE CRIMINAL CODE PROVISIONS TO BENEFIT VICTIMS?

In summary, while all respondent groups included some comments on the limitations of the impact of the Criminal Code provisions, most reflections on the provisions revealed positive accomplishments. The two biggest accomplishments are the creation of a more balanced criminal justice system through increased awareness of the concerns and interests of victims and the provision of more formal mechanisms to ensure that the victims have opportunities to participate and have a voice in the system.


[5] Restorative justice does, in principle, require voluntary agreement of the victim, the accused and the community.

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