Restorative Justice

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice refers to “an approach to justice that seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.”Footnote 1

Restorative Justice:

  • Provides opportunities for victims, offenders, and communities affected by a crime to communicate (directly or indirectly) about the causes, circumstances, and impact of that crime, and to address their related needs.
  • Uses processes, including conferences, dialogues and circles, guided by skilled facilitators, and can take different forms depending on the community, program, case, participants, or circumstances.Footnote 2
  • Uses processes that may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system and can be used with adults and youth.
  • Is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity.
  • Encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration.
  • Is used in every province and territory and is supported by legislation and federal, provincial and territorial government programs and policies.

Restorative justice is used by communities, including Indigenous communities, and as part of programs, as well as by police, courts, and corrections. Restorative justice contributes to a criminal justice system that is just, accessible, compassionate and fair, and promotes the safety and well-being of Canadians.

Shared Responsibility

In Canada, the federal Parliament is responsible for the enactment of criminal law, while the provinces and territories are responsible for the administration of justice. This means that federal, provincial and territorial governments work closely together on matters relating to criminal justice, including restorative justice.

In December 2018, FPT Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety approved a minimum target of a 5% increase in restorative justice referrals and processes for victims and offenders, as well as approving two key policy documents: the revised Principles and Guidelines for Restorative Justice Practice in Criminal Matters and Restorative Justice – Key Elements of Success.

Legislation

The Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act enable restorative justice processes to occur within the criminal justice system.

The Criminal Code provides that alternative measures may be used if an accused accepts responsibility for the offence (section 717). Moreover, courts may rely on sentencing objectives that are consistent with a restorative approach, including that a sentence imposed provides reparations for harm done to victims or to the community, or promotes a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims or to the community (section 718). Additionally, sentences may be crafted that are consistent with restorative principles. Conditional sentences as described in s. 742 of the Criminal Code are sometimes imposed in keeping with restorative justice objectives.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act includes an approach and several provisions that are consistent with a restorative approach, including in section 3 (Declaration of principle), sections 4 and 5 (Principles and Objectives of extrajudicial measures and sanctions), sections 19 and 41 (conferences), and section 42 (youth sentences).

Section 6(b) of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (enacted in 2015) provides that victims have a right to receive information about restorative justice, if they request it.

Finally, subsection 26.1(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act also provides for the opportunity for a victim to request information about restorative justice. To receive information about a federal offender who harmed them, victims must register with Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada by completing an Application to Receive Information as a Victim. (Victims interested in learning more about CSC’s services for victims, including registering, can contact its Victim Services Division toll-free at 1-866-806-2275 or at victims-victimes@csc-scc.gc.ca). Upon request or when they register with Correctional Service of Canada, victims receive a standard information package about the services available to them, which includes information about its restorative justice programs and its victim-offender mediation services (the Restorative Opportunities program) in compliance with section 6(b) of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

Program Funding

The Department of Justice supports projects related to restorative justice through the following:

  • Indigenous Justice Program;
  • Justice Partnership and Innovation Program;
  • Youth Justice Services Funding Program;
  • Victims Fund.

These investments provide program funding to support research; awareness and education activities including training to build capacity to support the effective use of restorative justice; and pilot projects.

International Contribution

Internationally, the Department of Justice, with the support of Global Affairs Canada, has coordinated the adoption of key resolutions on restorative justice at the United Nations (UN) Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in 1999, 2002, 2016 and 2018. Some highlights include:

  • In 2002, Canada’s input was instrumental in the development of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters, a document which has been a benchmark for international restorative justice practice, and upon which the current document, Principles and Guidelines for Restorative Justice Practice in Criminal Matters (2018) is based.
  • The 2016 resolutionFootnote 3 to the CCPCJ on Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters is significant because it takes note of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons and supported the convening of an International meeting of experts on restorative justice that Canada hosted in Ottawa in November 2017.
  • The United Nations Experts Group meeting on Restorative Justice emphasized the relevance of restorative justice in terms of improving access to justice, including for vulnerable and marginalized populations and societies in transition. The group noted that restorative justice was crucial to the achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal # 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

In May 2020, Canada was recognized internationally and presented at the launch of the recently updated United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes (Second Edition).

Services and information

Search the Directory of Restorative Justice

Currently, you may submit your information electronically to drj-rjr@justice.gc.ca.

Legislation and Policy

Restorative justice measures have been part of Canada’s criminal justice system for over forty years and are supported through federal legislation, policy and program responses.

Resources

The Indigenous Justice Program supports Indigenous community-based justice programs that offer culturally relevant alternatives to mainstream justice processes in appropriate circumstances.

Footnotes

Footnote 1

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety (2018). Principles and Guidelines for Restorative Practice in the Criminal Matters. https://scics.ca/en/product-produit/principles-and-guidelines-for-restorative-justice-practice-in-criminal-matters-2018/

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Footnote 2

Ibid.

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Footnote 3

The 2016 resolution to the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) on Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters was adopted by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at their meeting on July 26, 2016.

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